The Districts

A Flourish and a Spoil

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From their origins as a high-school band made good to their sound, which blends and balances slow-burning, folky anthems and brash rockers, the Districts could seem almost prefabricated if they weren't so genuine. On their impressive debut Telephone, they combined vivid storytelling and showstopping performances with an ease that felt like they'd been doing this their whole lives -- which in a way, they had been. Following in the footsteps of My Morning Jacket, the Replacements, and fellow Fat Possum artists the Walkmen and Cold War Kids, the Districts also manage to stay on the right side of the fine line separating classic from clich├ęd on A Flourish and a Spoil. Featuring new guitarist Pat Cassidy (founding member Mark Larson left the band for college) and production by John Congleton, the Districts' second album reins in the jammy aspects of their music somewhat, giving their fury and poetry a little more form. The new songs on their self-titled EP hinted at this direction, but it feels more natural here. A Flourish and a Spoil's best moments sound refined instead of confined, and still leave plenty of room for their buildups and breakdowns. They expand on their endearingly scruffy rock on "Peaches" and "4th and Roebling," which has a rough-and-tumble jangle that echoes the New York-based bands of the early 2000s (making the title's reference to a Brooklyn intersection all the more apt). Later, "Suburban Smell" draws its inspiration from the uglier side of the band's small-town roots, and as Rob Grote voices his disgust at a group of jocks picking on an intellectually disabled kid, he sounds younger and more vulnerable than he ever did on Telephone. At nearly nine minutes long, the standout "Young Blood" is the notable exception to A Flourish and a Spoil's more concise approach. As it grows from sunny strumming to searing feedback to the shout-along refrain "It's a long way down from the top to the bottom/It's a long way back to the height from where I am," it reveals itself as the perfect mix of Telephone's emotional tides and Congleton's muscular production. Occasionally, the Districts sound less sure of themselves than they did on their debut; songs such as "Hounds" and "Bold" feel more hemmed-in than streamlined. Still, A Flourish and a Spoil is far from a sophomore slump; instead, it's a portrait of the Districts as they evolve from their freewheeling beginning.

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