Johnny Brenda's Presents
New Year's Eve Eve with The Districts
Mannequin Pussy, Permanent Body
1201 N. Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA, 19125
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
It's not uncommon for musicians to grow and evolve between releases -- but even by those standards, the Districts' Popular Manipulations is stunning. The Pennsylvania-borne band's third full-length represents an exponential leap in sound and cohesion, an impressive and impassioned burn with a wide scope that threatens to swallow everything else surrounding it. Perhaps it's a cliché to say so, but while listening, you might find yourself wondering why people don't make indie rock like this anymore.
The total electric charge of Popular Manipulations is just the latest evolution for the impressively young quartet, whose founding members -- vocalist/guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence -- have known each other since attending grade school together in the Pennsylvania town of Lititz. After deciding to form a band in high school, the Districts gigged hard in the tri-state area, releasing a slew of promising material (including the rootsy 2012 debut Telephone) before catching the eye of venerable indie Fat Possum. 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil found the band refining their embryonic sound with veteran producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Kurt Vile) -- and looking back on that release, there are glimmers of Popular Manipulations in chrysalis form to be found on it, hints of the fence-swinging anthemic sound they'd soon make wholly their own.
After touring behind A Flourish and a Spoil, Grote began "playing with different ideas" in his own songwriting by making demos at a prolific pace. "We knew that we wanted to change some things musically, so we were trying to come up with as many songs as possible to narrow the direction we wanted to take the material," he states. In total, they ended up with 50 song ideas, and so they were off to LA in May of 2016 with new guitarist Pat Cassidy in tow to log more recording time with Congleton, with four of Popular Manipulations' songs coming out of the sessions.
"We have a lot of overlapping tastes and preferences for how things are made," Grote gushes about working with the notably reliable studio wizard -- but acceding all credit to Congleton (who also handled the record's mixdown) would be shortchanging the Districts themselves, who went on to self-produce the remainder of the record in Philadelphia with engineer Keith Abrams. "Something we took from working with Congleton was ideas on arranging songs," Grote explains, and they certainly learned a lot: Popular Manipulations is a raucous and impressively thick-sounding album, overflowing with toothy melodies that pack a serious punch.
The distinctly intense sound of Popular Manipulations -- charging guitars, thunderous drumming, and Grote's searing vocals -- was brought on by a few cited influences, from shoegaze's aggressive swirl to the Velvet Underground's impeccable drone-rock sound. There's a distinctly Canadian flavor to this brand of indie rock, too; Spencer Krug's anthemic, lushly inscrutable work in Wolf Parade and his defunct Sunset Rubdown side project comes to mind, as does 2000s Toronto barnburners the Diableros' overlooked 2006 gem You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts.
But don't mistake easy comparisons for a lack of originality: on Popular Manipulations, the District are in a lane entirely their own, exploring lyrical themes of isolation and abandonment in a way that ups the music's already highly charged emotional quotient. "Capable" finds Grote turning his focus to the ruinous aftermath of divorce, and "Before I Wake" is, in his words, "About coming to terms with being isolated or alone -- even though we have a whole group of voices singing the whole time." Grote explains that even the title of the record touches on these universal concerns: "It hints at how people use each other, for good or bad, and the personal ways you manipulate yourself and other people in day-to-day interactions."
For such weighty thematic material, though, Popular Manipulations is purely life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of the world that surrounds us. "We're a much better distillation of who we wish to be as a band," Grote reflects on the journey that has led the Districts to this point. "We've figured out how to distill the things we've been trying to accomplish as a band, musically and lyrically. We've always viewed making music as something we're trying to do better the whole time." Mission accomplished.
There are certain ineffable qualities to being a punk band that exists meaningfully. In the most simplistic terms, within the music there must be some sort of art practice, something communicative. Even in its most barebones brashness, precise construction goes a long way. This has never been a problem for Philadelphia’s Mannequin Pussy. With two full-length albums, 2014’s G.P. and 2016’s Romantic, inspiring critical acclaim from places like Pitchfork, NPR, Stereogum, the A.V. Club and more, it’s something impossible to describe and impossibly easy to notice. “Being in a punk band where you don’t want to take yourself too seriously while trying to aggressively make art through your music,” frontwoman Marisa Dabice explains of the band’s objective, “I think people sometimes expect kitschy-ness and I don’t want to do that.” There’s no danger of it.
Mannequin Pussy began as a duo between childhood best friends Dabice and guitarist Thanasi Paul. The pair wrote together, eventually feeling pressure to record a collection of songs. They did, and the bulk of Dabice’s first ever original material became their debut release, G.P. The demos showed immediate promise: Dabice’s idiosyncratic guitar playing of someone rediscovering their musical edge and Paul’s instrumental mobility. G.P. is a hopeful sort of scrappy experiment—but one that wouldn’t fully realize Mannequin Pussy until the duo met their creative collaborators in bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford and drummer Kaleen Reading.
Now a quartet, the band’s sophomore LP, Romantic, embodies Mannequin Pussy’s greatness: 20-minutes of hungry, genre-defying eclecticism that no longer feels like a collection of tracks but a record of real, discernible cohesion. Romantic kicks off with its title track, Dabice whisper-singing intimate vignettes of loneliness before exploding into trash-punk realizations—it’s hard to miss the mark when she offers the eyebrow-furrowing scream “I’m in hell.” It proceeds “Emotional High,” the most loving track on the record—a punk-pop anthem that removes itself from the transparent toxicity of some of the album’s other themes, or the progressive politicism of a song like “Pledge,” which offers the listener a new pledge of allegiance, one to themselves and no one else.
At their heart, Mannequin Pussy is a band that mosaics, taking unlike parts and making something new and whole from it’s unique pieces. It’s the direct result an artistic marriage between it’s four members, helmed by Dabice’s no non-sense, vulnerable and strong worldview. “What we hope for when people experience our music is a cathartic release, to not feel so alone in the emotions that most of us have, to maybe see the way other people experience theirs,” she says of the band’s aspirations. “Above all, the hope is that someone can listen to this album, feel connected to it on a personal level and have it set them free from all the toxic feelings that we hold on to.” It’s evident that they will, and do.
Permanent Body is the home recording project of longtime Philadelphia DIY stalwart Barrett Lindgren. As a principle, the project leans into the approachable and familiar, eschewing artistic pretense to explore only what feels immediately honest. The band has featured live and recorded contributions from Robyn Campbell, Kyle Laganella, Kian Sorouri, Jarret Nathan, and Shannen Moser.
All shows are 21+ Proper I.D. required for admission
Wed, February 21
Thu, February 22
Fri, February 23
Sat, February 24
Wed, February 28