Interpol’s fifth album, El Pintor, eschews the experimental diversions and general malaise of the band’s last, self-titled release in favor of a general return to the post-punk throb they nailed on their first run out in Turn on the Bright Lights. The context into which El Pintor drops, however, is completely different. The post-punk revival the band helped kick off more than a decade ago is on more than a hiatus, and many of the genre’s signature acts have long since disbanded or evolved. Interpol’s music, with its high-contrast cool, insular art flair, and cult of melancholia, is no longer the sound du jour, but the band has delivered something even better here: an elegantly simple, aggressive album that understands and acknowledges its own past without nostalgia or bloat.
El Pintor, typically for Interpol, makes few sorties into familiar pop-song structures; instead, despite Paul Banks proclaiming “fuck the ancient ways,” the album frequently borrows pacing from the band’s first two efforts. The initially fragile, haunting opening of “All the Rage Back Home” recalls Turn on the Bright Lights’s “Untitled” before it catapults into an urgent rock groove driven by Sam Fogarino’s punky snare, while the reverb-heavy, pummeling “Breaker 1” points back to “Obstacle 1.” Also familiar is the album’s distant tone, provoked by the lockstep control of Fogarino’s drumming, the opaque but evocative lyrics (“There is a slope like an appetite”) placed far back in the mix, and Daniel Kessler’s angular, intricate riffs that favor abstraction over melody.
Like the anagram of the band’s name hidden in the album title, Interpol rearranges and reinvigorates familiar elements on El Pintor. With the departure of Carlos D, Banks has taken over bass duties, laying out slabs of rhythmic low end for Kessler’s trip-wire tremolo guitar lines, but he’s also discovered his falsetto. “My Blue Supreme,” which might refer either to a car or a new kind of high, “My Desire,” and “Tidal Wave,” which integrates a couple of great, weird structural detours, all benefit from Banks’s expanded range and brightened palette. Keyboard help from the Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis and strings by Rob Moose add complexity to El Pintor’s soundscape, like on closer “Twice As Hard,” which builds from single, entwined lines of guitar and piano into a wide open, orchestral coda. And though Interpol still traffics almost exclusively in melancholy, it’s not necessarily a depressive affliction—or experience, for that matter.