Though released in the summer of 2002 and discovered while getting accustomed with the discomfort of adolescence in Canada, Interpol’s inaugural Turn on the Bright Lights will always be inextricably linked in my mind with two things: winter and New York.
From the opening chords of the LP appetizer “Untitled” to the doleful refrains that close out “Leif Erickson”—the whole album’s defining sound shimmers under the cool detached vocals of Paul Banks and Daniel Kessler’s angular guitar strokes–their tone straddling the line between crisp and harsh, balanced against the ebullience of Carlos Dengler’s bass. The whole rhythm section so strongly grounds the understated groove of the record that when it drops out during a few notable moments (the intro on “The New” for example), you can’t help but lean in closer, only to have the warmth of the band’s full sound return to swaddle you.
For all the derision aimed at Banks’ lyrics (fair) and the similarity to Joy Division ‘s Ian Curtis in his warbled delivery, it’s the quality and stylistic consistency of Interpol’s sound that makes the album still resonate so palpably fifteen years later. Be it the opening riff of “Obstacle 1,” the hopeful restraint of “NYC,” or even the sinister whispers underneath the knife-edge creepiness of “Roland,” each component and passage fits together with the same painful detachment that underpins the album.
It’s no coincidence that I’m pressed to look back on this record tonight as New York braces itself for Winter Storm Stella, evoking the title of the eighth track and fan favorite of the compilation. As I sit here overlooking the traffic of 2nd Avenue trickle to a slow drip in anticipation of the impending snowfall, I can’t help but look back on the years since this seminal album cemented itself as a permanent part of my rotation.
Raised in a snowy Canadian town on a constant glut of awareness and appreciation for the city (my mother landed in Queens after fleeing Iran), coupled with the post-9/11 zeitgeist in those years that refracted New York anywhere it could, it’s really no wonder I make the association. Maybe this album was really written by and for turn-of-the-century New Yorkers, taking bumps off their keys somewhere in the stairwell of a Brooklyn walk-up, but frankly, if this stuff doesn’t remind you of the time and place where you started abruptly becoming acquainted with your interior self, then you missed out.
Now that I’ve been lucky enough to live in the city awhile, if ever I’m wandering around in the snow as I’m wont to do in the coming days–turning on this record is one of the few things that will make me reexamine the sights I’ve become prone to ignore—and admire the bright lights anew.