May 8, 2015

Django Django is unreined, suffers from Second Album Syndrome

Dave Maclean, Django Django’s drummer/producer, has one of the better curated Twitter accounts out there. He often posts YouTube links to albums he’s listening to that day, and they’re usually ones that most people would only find digging around in the “used” crates at record stores. Just in the last few weeks, he’s linked his followers to a live album by Jackie Mittoo (a Jamaican keyboardist), Joy Division’s Peel Sessions, ’60s American rock band The James Gang’s James Gang Rides Again, Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock, and an album by British electronic producer Lone.

Of course, Maclean isn’t the only member of Django Django. There are three other members: Vincent Neff sings and plays guitar, Jimmy Dixon is on bass, and Tommy Grace is a “synth operator” (that alone says something about Django Django—there are probably no other indie guitar bands with a member who holds that title). Their tastes are equally eclectic, encompassing everything from Ethiopian folk and post-punk to psychedelic rock. How can people with such diversity in their influences and no clear genre preference decide what they want their music to sound like? How do you determine which track begs a four-to-the-floor disco beat, which song needs an injection of soul, where the bongos need to come in? When you know so much music, how do you incorporate all your influences into a cohesive sound for a single album?

The main thing Django Django’s second album, Born Under Saturn, has going for it is its distinct sound—no doubt owing to the combination of these myriad influences. From the smooth synth intro to “First Light” that spirals into a thumping beat, to the popping-bubble noise on “Vibrations,” to a jazzy keyboard line on “Pause Repeat,” Born Under Saturn sees Django Django pushing itself to combine new sounds with old favorites. Best of all, the songs on Born Under Saturn rarely lose their hooks—even underneath the bongos and the tambourines and the scrapers, there’s an irresistibly catchy melody.

The same thing was true for their self-titled debut album, which was nominated for the 2012 Mercury Prize. “Default,” Django Django’s best song, is hyper-addictive: It worms its way into your head to such an extent that even without listening to it for a few months, I could still bang out the rhythm perfectly.

None of the songs in Born Under Saturn have the hit-single potential of “Default,” and the album does have a longer total running time than their previous effort—56 minutes versus 48. This is where the myriad influences turn into a problem: Django Django stuffs Born Under Saturn a little too full. Although each of the 13 tracks is diverse and interesting on its own, stringing 13 of them together is a little hard on the listener—each track demands your full attention, but it’s pretty damn hard to drop everything and listen intently for 56 minutes. At around the eleventh track, my mind started to wander. I had the same problem listening to Django Django’s lengthy self-titled release; to an unflattering degree, Born Under Saturn follows the same template. It’s a classic case of Second Album Syndrome, in which bands attempt to create replicas of their (successful) debut album: Born Under Saturn has the same number of tracks, the same ratio of slow to fast songs, and there are no significant changes to the band’s overall sound.

Django Django is, in many ways, comparable to Alt-J: Both bands released albums in 2012 that have been nominated for the Mercury Prize (Alt-J won), both have been pegged as Radiohead-wannabes (valid in Alt-J’s case), and both released second albums with the exact same format as their debuts. Just like Alt-J’s This Is All Yours, Born Under Saturn could have been released as an extension of Django Django’s first album—perhaps the second half of a double LP—and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

The musical diversity within Django Django’s songs is still bewitching; it’s just the compilation of them that dilutes their strength. Thankfully, the digital age has a solution: cherry-pick the catchiest numbers of Born Under Saturn and throw them into a playlist titled “For When You Get Tired of Django Django.”