It would’ve been a good name for a marbled paper collage I made about four years ago – or at least a better one than whatever hedonistic tripe I presumably came up with. Marble Skies, British art-rock quartet Django Django’s third album, actually bears something of a resemblance to my teenage artistic endeavours. Though a patchwork of shapes, styles, and moods, each piece fits together with surprising coherence, and the whole thing is coated in a vibrant, psychedelic, spacey glaze.
The opening and titular track immediately indicates a clear departure from the feel of their previous album. Born Under Saturn was very much dominated by big sounds, pounding and plodding through steady beats and muscular riffs. ‘Marble Skies’ conveys a new sense of urgency, an assured charge that sees them deftly sweeping through layers of Kraftwerk-esque retrofuturism, punctuated by fast-paced verses. “Take us as we are”, the chorus boldly declares - they’ve never sounded more confident in their style. Something previously alien to Django Django’s discography comes with second track ‘Surface to Air’, in the form of guest vocals from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor, reincarnated as her new solo project, Self Esteem. The tempo drops a bit for this one, and it feels somewhat limp in comparison to its predecessor. Usual progress is soon resumed, however, with ‘Champagne’, which is reminiscent of their first album. Staccato guitars, whirling synths, and a faint background of elevator music make this a pleasant but largely forgettable track.
Next up is energetic lead single ‘Tic Tac Toe’. Behind its throbbing bassline and chugging drumbeat, the lyrics draw on themes of nihilism and the banal repetitiveness of modern, consumerist life (“Lately, have you ever wondered why we’re put here / playing each and every game / day by day?”). As always, the sounds are texturally rich and the production immaculate, and though it may initially sound like something of a throwaway, closer inspection reveals evidence of their meticulous studio craftsmanship.
“An assured charge that sees them deftly sweeping through layers of Kraftwerk-esque retrofuturism”
After a short burst of space rock in the form of ‘Further’, with its jangly riffs and spiralling mellotron, the album really starts to take shape. The understated and wistful ‘Sundials’ is perhaps their most tender moment to date. With a naked piano riff taking centre stage, shy Beach Boys harmonies glide ethereally over distant reverb and sublime saxophone interludes. The serenity is soon disturbed, however, by the syncopated intro of ‘Beam Me Up’. This dark and brooding track is a real standout. The sound is industrial and bleak; the familiar falsetto niceties are dropped in favour of a chilling but purposeful delivery, laid over an undulating bass and a progressive synth accompaniment. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Horrors album, or alongside some of Alt-J’s more lively work. Double-tracked vocals and dense sonic layers give it a very intense, full-bodied flavour that makes for an impressive auditory experience.
Pulling a tight hairpin once again, ‘In your Beat’ is a straight up pop banger. With an uplifting sing-along chorus about dancing, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Calvin Harris record. There are hyperbolic builds, even a drop. Perhaps this is their attempt to break out into the mainstream, or maybe they just wanted to take a rest from being opaque and artsy to make a fun feel-good song. Either way, it’s perfect for radio play, indie disco playlists and sun-soaked festival sets. Is it a bit superficial? Potentially. Is it enjoyable? Inarguably.
“Is it a bit superficial? Potentially. Is it enjoyable? Inarguably”
Laser guns and bouncy beats fill the extended intro of ‘Real Gone’ with a very LCD Soundsystem feel, before switching to a Jagwar Ma style electronic piece. Eventually, the high octane drum machine gives way to a gentle tinkle and fade into ‘Fountains’. German electronic and krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk are channelled once again, this time via panpipes that could’ve been lifted straight from ‘Autobahn’. Frontman Vincent Neff shows his vocal prowess here, with delicate, sustained high notes and buoyant transitions, not dissimilar to that on Jungle’s eponymous 2014 record. Despite the recurring nihilistic themes, the LP closes on a note of optimistic agnosticism and acceptance.
Over ten short and reasonably disconnected tracks, Django Django dabble in a variety of genres, but wholly commit to none. There’s a distinct shift towards pop, but not at the expense of artistic integrity. It’s extremely playable and only gets more infectious upon repetition. While Marble Skies likely won’t be held in as high regard as their mercury prize nominated debut, it serves as an important stepping stone that secures their position as ones to watch and keep watching.
Artist: Django Django. Label: Ribbon Music. Top Tracks: Beam Me Up; Sundials. For Fans Of: LCD Soundsystem; Jagwar Ma. 40 minutes