Django Django (photo courtesy of Primary Talent, PR)
Born Under Saturn
Second albums can be challenging, even when a band debuts, as Django Django did in 2012, buoyed by a gale of critical accolades. The quartet, whose members met at the Edinburgh School of Art, quietly released an ebullient hodgepodge of a self-titled first album, simmering with pseudo-surf rock and heavily rhythmic psychedelia, without too many expectations. They ended up with an impressive Mercury Prize nomination and tours that traversed the world for over two years, including festival goliaths like Glastonbury and Japan’s Fuji Rock.
So it’s not entirely surprising that the band, based out of London now, chose to creatively recalibrate when planning their followup, Born Under Saturn. This time, all four members wrote together, not just relying on songs first sculpted by vocalist and guitarist Vinnie Neff and drummer and producer Dave Maclean (the brother of former Beta Band member and BAFTA-winning composer John Maclean) as they had with their debut. With bassist Jimmy Dixon and synth master Tommy Grace building the record's foundation with Maclean and Neff, Django Django have found a more cohesive arc on Born Under Saturn, writing songs that make sense together. Although a restless and even haphazard energy remains a part of Django Django’s DNA—Maclean’s DJ background will always tempt him to shuffle madly through a crate of inspirations—Born Under Saturn unfurls with fluidity and focus.
An important postscript: the guys really want you to dance too. Seguing from the seismic preamble of “Giant,” Django Django shimmy with “Shake and Tremble,” a hip-swaying number that rumbles with a slightly sinister, burbling nod to Henry Mancini’s old “Peter Gunn" theme. Jumping ahead a couple of decades, “First Light,” is a skinny-tie, retro-Eighties strut: Neff’s airy chant floats above the song’s percussive thrust and mournful synth exhalations. “Pause Repeat” swiftly drops its flirtation with military precision and goes totally A.W.O.L. with a goofy, effervescent skip. The slow-building “Reflections” aspires to be a straight-up piano house banger (there’s already a batch of remixes) and even features Roller Trio saxophonist James Mainwaring who steps in for a breezy, warbling solo.
“Vibrations,” a joyful, Caribbean-baked confection, chirrups with a sound best described as a dripping bathtub faucet, while a darker, dreamier filter prettily obscures “High Moon.” According to Maclean, that song, along with “Found You,” echoes the influence of Maclean and Grace’s scoring of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 production of John Webster’s bloody revenge tragedy The White Devil. That theatrical experience bodes well for the band, steering them towards a different kind of narrative.
Wanderlust still governs Django Django’s driving motivation as a band. They’re forward-thinking lads who yearn to travel in many directions at once, whether that’s classic Chicago house, twangy Shadows-style surf rock, choir-boy choruses, Krautrock or propulsive Afrobeat polyrhythms. Although more carefully crafted than its predecessor, Django Django’s Born Under Saturn doesn’t quell those quirky, ambitious impulses, but refines them with an intuitive sense of smart songwriting, artful complexity, and good humor.