Ever since their storming self-titled and Mercury shortlisted debut, Django Django have always had the ability to inject fun into everything they do. On the surface it might seem arty (and therefore pretentious), but on Glowing in the Dark they’ve proved such preconceptions to be untrue once again. There’s even a special edition glow in the dark vinyl to go with it. Yes it’s gimmicky but it shows what this band is all about and it nearly had me clicking that ‘Add to basket’ button on that basis alone.
The first three tracks of Glowing in the Dark carry on telling you all you need to know about this band. ‘Spirals’ is an inspired choice as an album opener. There’s probably a word to describe the unison between words and music in a song (sadly it escapes me right now), as they rise and rise together (in spirals) to the chorus of “higher and higher, in spirals”, before unleashing the guitar breakdown and the impeccably judged drama of the few tubular bell strikes. It’s big, but never over the top. ‘Right the Wrongs’ follows and is an all-shoulders punk/new wave bop, coming in at just over two minutes. With ‘Got Me Worried’, a classic Django groove, following swiftly after, the intent for Glowing in the Dark is very much set.
If you were ready at this point to dismiss this album, and even this band, on the basis of them being fun, then think again. Something a little more serious lies beneath. Glowing in the Dark has a running theme of escape: from despair, from constraints, from small town life, and even, in dreams, from the Earth. Yet it manages to find optimism despite the constraints of all of our lives, and surely, the far from normal situation for musicians writing and recording an album during a pandemic (I promise I will write a review soon where I don’t mention it).
Things slow down in a good way towards the middle of the album. ‘Free from Gravity’ is another highlight, with simple yet masterful changes in texture between verse and chorus. Bang in the middle comes ‘The Ark’. It’s a fair bit of experimentation, but nowhere near as successful as other Django Django instrumentals. It would make perfect sense in a live situation to give the vocalists a break, but here it feels out of place.
I’ve written before that it’s a fine line to tread between being derivative and wearing your influences on your sleeve. The press release for the album claims that ‘Django Django have constantly headed left where others have gone right’ and so the band find a third way. This album is like a greatest hits tour of their favourites, whether influences or not, through the ages. From nu-rave swirly synths (‘Spirals’) and basslines to Soft Cell’s drum machine (‘Asking for More) and from to Simon & Garfunkel (‘The World Will Turn’) to madchester (‘Kick the Devil Out’) . Taking it one step further with Charlotte Gainsbourg, they even manage to get CG herself to appear on the album to add vocals to ‘Waking Up’.
Django Django have always had their singular sound from the very beginning and they manage to continue to sound uniquely ‘them’, without that sound coming across as tired or dull. The title track exemplifies this – it’s poppy but wonky and everything is rhythm. There’s almost no tune and the production isn’t typical of the rest of the album, but it works.
This album works too. Django Django have quietly been one of the UK’s most consistent bands for nearly a decade now. Glowing in the Dark is yet another exceptional album for them. Get some glow in your life too.
Words by James Spearing