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Great American Painting is the rare album that shines a bright light on all that’s wrong in the world but somehow still channels a galvanizing sense of hope. With equal parts nuanced observation and raw outpouring of feeling, the Philadelphia-based band confront a constellation of problems eroding the American ideal (gentrification, gun violence, the crushing weight of late capitalism), ornamenting every track with their explosive yet elegant breed of indie-rock/post-punk. Threading that commentary with intense self-reflection, Great American Painting ultimately fulfills a mission The Districts first embraced upon forming as teenagers in small-town Pennsylvania: an urge to create undeniably cathartic music that obliterates hopelessness and invites their audience along in dreaming up a far better future.
Great American Painting was deeply informed by the two months that Grote spent living in a cabin in Washington state at the height of the pandemic. “While we were there I spent some time driving near all these crazy rivers and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and I was mesmerized by how those unspoiled landscapes really capture a timeless idea of what America is,” says Grote. “I’d just come from taking part in the protests in Philly and getting tear-gassed, and it felt so strange to go between those two extremes. In a way this album is asking, ‘What is the great American painting? Is it police brutality, or is it this beautiful landscape?’ And the truth is it’s all of that.”
Mostly made up of songs sketched by Grote during his time at the cabin, Great American Painting marks a significant departure from 2020’s acclaimed You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere. “The last album almost felt like a recording project of my own rather than a band affair, so from the start the goal was to focus on what’s always worked well with us: an element of simplicity that’s still very powerful, with a lot of visceral rock-and-roll energy to it,” says Grote. To that end, Great American Painting endlessly spotlights The Districts’ greatest assets—the sharply detailed and prismatic tones of guitarist Pat Cassidy, the complex yet combustible rhythms of drummer Braden Lawrence and former bassist Connor Jacobus, who has since amicably departed the band (Lawrence will switch to bass in the band’s live show)—while introducing a new subtlety into their sound. “We usually love to just keep making everything louder, but this time there was a lot more attention paid to carving out space within the songs to really showcase each instrument,” Grote points out.
In the making of Great American Painting, The Districts found their sense of connection exponentially intensified. “It just felt so nice to spend time with the people I care about, to have fun and try to make something good for the world,” Grote says. That feeling of kinship and solidarity is something the band hopes to extend with the album’s release. “The thing I value most in music is when an album expresses some sort of pain or frustration or hope that I also feel,” he explains. “I hope this album makes people feel like something within themselves is reflected in the wider world, and I hope that makes them feel less alone.”