Steve Nebesney

Here's a handy way to chart the Rapture's evolution from their debut full-length, Echoes, to their new album, Pieces of the People We Love: pull the records off the shelf and take a good look at their covers.

On Echoes, the band appear close-up, against a pitch-black background, blurry and lit by neon, as though existing deep in the claustrophobic bowels of some sweaty nightclub. On the record, dance-party anthem "Ho Jealous Lovers" and stroboscopic club cuts "Sister Saviour" and "I Need Your Love" bump up against the ragged punk of "Killing," the morning-after melancholy of "Open Up Your Heart," and the hazy "Love Is All." The album reflects crazy nights out full of chemical mood swings, unexpected brilliance, and inevitable hangovers.

For the cover of Pieces, the band poses against a white background, visible from head to toe, and decorated with Matisse-like cutouts of pastel color. A dramatic departure from the tightly wound, almost paranoid, punk funk of its predecessor, Pieces is full of sunny dance pop, playground chants, and even a misfired ode to the classic American automobile. The band got themselves together, and it shows in the "shake, shake, shake" of Pieces.

When the Rapture (finally) released Echoes in 2003, it couldn't have come with a more fitting title. The record's release had been long delayed, leaving its tracks bouncing around file-sharing networks for about a year; three songs (including the hits "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Killing") had already been released as 12-inches. The "dance-rock" scene for which they'd become reluctant poster boys had been flooded with imitators. In some weird anomaly of music-industry physics, Echoes hit the streets only after its wave had already crested. The record that was supposed to be the dance-punk statement felt like an afterthought, even if it still stands as the defining document of that moment.

Singer Luke Jenner remembers: "After 'House of Jealous Lovers,' a lot of bands would just start putting a disco beat under, like, Radiohead. But we've never viewed ourselves as part of any 'indie' scene, and 'dance rock' is just the dumbest name ever; it just sounds so crappy. When we made 'House of Jealous Lovers,' we were trying to make a club record, we weren't looking to make some indie crossover thing."

But the band did score serious crossover success, and their signing to a major label gave the Rapture the time and resources to take a much-needed break before starting work on their follow-up.

"[For Echoes], we would go in with songs half finished and write a lot in the studio," says Jenner. "But this time we wrote maybe 30 or 40 songs and we were able to take our time and agree on everything we did, as opposed to fighting over everything. We're a lot happier with everything that happened."

Another change between albums was the Rapture's split with the DFA and enlistment of producers Paul "Phones" Epworth and Ewan Pearson for eight of the album's tracks, and Danger Mouse for two. "We just sent out demos of tracks to a bunch of different producers and we went with the ones that had the best ideas for our songs," recalls Jenner. Pieces possesses slightly more of a pop polish than Echoes, and trading DFA's involved experimentation for more directed production has resulted in an album with a more cohesive sound, if fewer surprises, than their debut.

The disco strut of "Don Gon Do It," the infectious bass pulse of "Whoo! Alright—Yeah... Uh Huh," and the laid-back grooves of "Get Myself Into It" reaffirm the Rapture's dance-floor supremacy, while the shuffling, Danger Mouse–produced title track suggests the band's pop potential. With Pieces, the Rapture seem less concerned with straddling punk and disco and far more comfortable simply making poppy dance music. "Our biggest influences have always been electronic artists like Daft Punk," says Jenner. "And our contemporaries are really the producers we work with and artists like Black Strobe, Digitalism, and the Ed Banger label."

Despite their growing success, the band still see themselves as black sheep. "Dance music is still very underground in the U.S.," says Jenner. "Dance music is more punk than punk rock."