Philadelphia indie rock quartet the Districts put all the pieces together on their third LP, Popular Manipulations. Friends since grade school, bandmates since high school, the four members have grown up in front of their fans, self-releasing their first album in their teens and signing a deal with Fat Possum Records not long after graduation. While earlier releases revealed a scrappy, hard-working band performing beyond the expectations of their tender age, they had yet to lock onto an essential sound. Produced in part by returning collaborator John Congleton, Popular Manipulations is a significant step forward for the Districts, taking a more streamlined yet experimental approach delivered with a buckled-down intensity that leaps out of the speakers. Rippling with energy, opening cut "If Before I Wake" begins with a buzzing drone and near-chanted vocals before exploding into a primal psychedelic groove, introducing what feels like a transformed band. Creative arrangements abound throughout the album, from the dark spacy pop of "Violet" to the percussive minimalism of "Why Would I Wanna Be." Subtle pianos and synths add understated flair here and there, giving an eerie tone to the thoughtful shuffle pop of "Capable," another strong cut. The band's overall craftsmanship and performances seem more honed and vocalist Rob Grote now takes a more commanding tone. Acting as a sort of bookend, album closer "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" again features the group singing in unison, though unlike the opening track, it takes its time ramping up to the spaced-out crescendo. With Popular Manipulations, the Districts make their first grand statement, setting a new bar for themselves in the process.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger