After their debut album was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2012, Django Django shot into prominence abruptly. And the attention was deserved; Django Django is a great album that I still find myself revisiting from time to time. It strikes a balance between the band’s kookiness and accessibility, featuring plenty of solid songs like the incredibly catchy ‘Default’. Django Django’s sophomore effort, 2015’s Born Under Saturn, was admittedly much weaker, with even the band showing some ambivalence towards it in recent interviews. Despite a few solid tracks (‘First Light’ is still one of the best songs they’ve put out), it felt uneven and bloated at almost an hour long.
Luckily, Django Django seem to have learned from that album’s problems. Their latest release Marble Skies brushes in at just forty minutes with only ten tracks and feels tighter than anything they’ve released before. Unlike Born Under Saturn, it doesn’t feel like the band are trying to be big and showy (even the promotion in the lead-up to the album’s release felt muted) but just serve up a solid set of songs that flow together well. And I’d say they’ve succeeded at that.
Marble Skies features some of the most straight-up fun songs the band have ever put out, from the incredibly danceable ‘In Your Beat’ to the wild and jumpy ‘Tic Tac Toe’. It definitely feels like they’re trying to cut loose a bit more. The album’s title track and opener shows this best; ‘Marble Skies’ contrasts significantly with the slow openers featured on the band’s previous two albums, kicking things off with a huge burst of energy. The song barrels along through its verses, choruses and delightful vocoder-featuring bridge at a break-neck pace, never letting up. This is true with many of the album’s highlights, such as the previously mentioned ‘In Your Beat’ and ‘Tic Tac Toe’ (which even opens with David Maclean telling us to not ‘go so slow’.)
Though many of the album’s less hectic moments land just as well, such as the R&B-infused ‘Surface to Air’. Featuring guest vocals from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor, it definitely has a distinct feel among the band’s songs – even if the bizarre instrumentation is incredibly Django Django. It’s restrained, yet still punchy. Another highlight is ‘Real Gone’, the one track on Marble Skies that really does take its time. The song opens with a long synth-tinged instrumental intro (that sounds like the soundtrack to a long-lost ‘70s sci-fi movie) before slowly gathering momentum. It’s easily the album’s most self-indulgent moment, but the crescendo the track eventually reaches is definitely worth it.
I will admit that the album does end up sagging slightly in the middle with the country-infused ‘Further’ and piano ballad ‘Sundials’, both of which, while not bad, definitely stick out among the much stronger songs that surround them. I similarly found myself underwhelmed with ‘Fountains’, which closes out the album. It just feels too inconsequential to me – as pleasant as the song is – ending things with a shrug rather than a bang.
This isn’t an album that comes across as a grand artistic statement – like many try to be these days – and I don’t think that’s what it was intended to be. It feels like Django Django took a back-to-basics approach, focusing on crafting songs that are just plain enjoyable to listen to. And I definitely Marble Skies is all the better for it.
Best Tracks: ‘Marble Skies’, ‘Tic Tac Toe’, ‘In Your Beat’.