At face value, El Pintor translates into English as “the painter.” If you take a look at the cover art for Interpol’s fifth studio album, however, it’s clear something else is at play. The title works as an anagram for the band name as well. And this particular little trick makes perfect sense for the New York indie rock outfit. While their sound is still grounded in post-punk, their mindset continues to be minimalist. No extra letters are necessary for the title; no extra riffs are necessary for the music.
Yet, even with the sparse nature of the music, it’s hard not to become entranced by the hypnotic riffs. Often piercing to the point of shrieking, the guitar work on tracks such as “All the Rage Back Home” and “Same Town, New Story” hook into a listener with a finely directed purpose. But on El Pintor there always seems to be a gentle drum beat or keyboard twinkle to provide a necessary cushion such as the borderline calypso rhythm of “Breaker 1” or the hazy atmosphere of “Tidal Wave.”
Indeed, you’ll likely be captured by Interpol’s sonic gravity, but the place you’re going isn’t a bright one. El Pintor is littered with wistful melancholy in lyrics as spare as they are cryptic. “And how many bones were lost, cause he just had to play his hand?” is not an easy question to answer, but I doubt the response will be uplifting. On “My Desire,” lead man Paul Banks sings, “I’m human/I feel you/erased.” In only six words Banks somehow completely wipes someone from existence. There can be a cruel efficiency in despair. And when Banks isn’t mourning loss, he’s expressing extreme burden. “Feels like the whole world is up on my shoulders/feels like the whole world coming down on me,” Banks laments on “Same Town, New Story.” Again, in just two lines, we’re crushed by the task of Atlas.
Ever since 2002’s breakout debut Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol have been a steady presence in the indie rock scene. They may not have been as “New York” as fellow early-aughters The Strokes or worn quite as much eye makeup as sonic rivals The Killers, but they’ve found their own way to last. With El Pintor, Interpol continues to give us interesting minimalism coupled with inner emotional turmoil. After all, when Banks sings that it’s “all the rage back home,” he doesn’t sound like someone offering an offhand quip. He sounds like someone who would do anything just to get back to a far off place.