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Beneath a lacquered veneer of black suits, hip coifs, and oblique lyrics, Interpol poses a conundrum to fans and foes alike. The quartet -- singer/guitarist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, bassist Carlos Dengler (a.k.a. Carlos D.), and drummer (and Fort Lauderdale alum) Sam Fogarino -- has been deemed both innovative rockers and derivative neophytes since infiltrating New York City's music scene in 2000. Though the band has only two full-lengths under its skinny, white belts, its ability to appeal to today's indie kids and yesterday's post-punk nostalgics has nonetheless ensured success. Judging by the host of television appearances, summer festivals, European gigs, and media hyperactivity that followed in the wake of the 2002 debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, the group has touched one gigantic nerve. And though their precocious career trajectory mirrors those of other (once) Great Rock Hopes like My Bloody Valentine and Galaxie 500, winter's follow-up, Antics, suggests the band is not disappearing anytime soon.

Turn On the Bright Lights was an atmospheric debut bold enough to arch the most seasoned critic's eyebrows. It defied garage-rock revivalist and rap-metal hybrid trends, taking its sound instead from the darker days of late-'70s/early '80s Manchester. Driven by a voice inexhaustedly compared to Joy Division's ill-fated helmsman, Ian Curtis, Bright Lights articulated the ennui of a hyperstimulated generation. It nimbly tailored its earnest, post-punk aesthetic to the new century and generated radio-friendly hits "Obstacle 1" and "PDA."

Then along came Antics. Released in December of last year, the record immediately feels like a departure from its predecessor. As in the first single, "Slow Hands," Antics retains Bright Lights' tight dynamic and atmospheric conceit but channels less of its brooding, minimalist tendencies. Though it may sound more commercially viable, its complexity also marks a newfound maturity. The band even rises from its permamope with opener "Next Exit," just doo-woppish and achy enough to inspire listeners to imagine Audrey Horne selecting it on the Twin Peaks jukebox.

"I'm extremely flattered by that reference," Carlos D. says, on tour in San Francisco with fellow New York indie luminaries Blonde Redhead. "I think every band should try to expand when they make another record -- it should always be about pushing your own boundaries, testing your own limits." Citing one of their many influences, he adds, "Radiohead is a great example of a band that basically on every record has done that."

But has Interpol truly perked up? Au contraire: According to Dengler, they weren't that cranky in the first place. He insists that the two albums participate in a continuum. Antics' more upbeat numbers, he says, "are very old songs, but we never really played or fine-tuned them enough to make them compatible with Bright Lights, so we just said, 'You know what? We'll tackle that problem on the second record. '"

Regardless of time line, the boys seem to have glitzed up the glamour on Antics, no doubt with a boost from their indie home, Matador Records.

"We honed our production skills," Denggler says, "and I think all the tones and colors and textures are a lot crisper and brighter, and that gives the material the appearance that it's a little bit more optimistic or lighthearted."

Accompanying enhanced studio expertise are the demands of cultural sensitivity and the myriad challenges of their grueling, 2005 world tour. From February to April, they will play more than 41 cities and sell out megavenues like Radio City Music Hall. Going global, Dengler explains, comes with its own postmodern complications.

"Europe can be a bit awkward if you're flying around all over the place, because you're constantly changing," he says. "There are many times when I've had to think to myself, 'Which language are people speaking right now? German or French?'

"It's exciting on one level," he continues, "because you get this pan-cultural kind of experience within a very short period of time. But when you're on the road, creature comforts take such prime importance that challenges like culture shock, for instance, aren't often received sympathetically, to put it euphemistically," he laughs.

Hassles aside, Dengler seeks a different kind of solace during the band's regular afterparties, which take place about every other show. Off-stage, he proves deft on the decks, spinning primarily "darky, post-punky, new-wavey type stuff," such as Tones on Tail, Bauhaus, New Order, and Joy Division, natch. Along with the more obvious cuts, he's eager to mix things up. "That's the axis that my DJ sets revolve around," he says, "but then I do things like 'Push It' by Salt-n-Pepa, 'Paid in Full' by Eric B & Rakim; then I play metal, some Led Zeppelin."

"DJing has always been a pastime for me," he says, "because I can't really go to sleep at a certain time, so I tend to go out, and I've developed a fascination and appreciation for that sort of energy you feel when the right song comes on and everybody's loving it. So fostering that and creating the preconditions for that -- which is what a DJ is supposed to do -- became something of total interest to me. And I just decided to take that on the road, because why not?"

It remains to be seen if this mix can withstand the pressures that lurk beyond the current tour. Antics may be a noteworthy follow-up to an arresting debut, but Interpol's survival is contingent upon its ability to remain innovative and maintain artistic integrity. To that end, when the tour concludes, the band is eager to pursue "little pet agendas," from Fogarino's interest in opening a recording studio to Banks' pursuit of his solo material. Dengler admits another album is a tall order.

"It's not going to be another four years before the third record," he says. "It's on the horizon, but there's so much work left to do that it's something that we're just not honestly thinking about too concretely."

Though some might consider the band's Icarus-like rise to fame a surefire route to early demise, Dengler sees things clearly. When asked how their career trajectory might affect their ability to grow as artists, he gives a well-worn, pat response.

"All the other things that accompany this lifestyle," he explains, "in the way of attention and press and comparisons and influences and themes, we consider extraneous to what we're really concentrating on, which is our music and our fans. That's the only really important aspects for us... because then it becomes just about the music [being] as good as possible. By filtering out all the other stuff, we prevent it from contaminating the mix that we've got going."

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Kelly Shindler

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