September 17, 2007

Modeselektor - Happy Birthday!

Actually Modeselektor are excited to become cartoons. The group’s last couple of album covers are giddily aware of it. Inside the cover for Happy Birthday! and on its portly made-for-CD running-time, Modeselektor pound away with ACME anvils and beep beep through open ranges—covering the distance between bangers and ballads. Or, to be fair, it’s just bangers and ballads. That’s it.

Let’s not take away from Modeselektor’s strengths though, the pair is also good at bastardizing genres and music scenes. Their debut album wasn’t named Hello Mum! for no reason. Happy Birthday! just begs to be described in a pragmatic word like “chock-full,” but here’s an overlooked factoid—it’s the first album to be graced by one Thom Yorke which isn’t worried about being tasteful with a capital T.

Being tasteless suits the band just fine. With “2000007,” it also lets them out-prefuse Prefuse 73. Not stuck explaining their exquisite band name or racial politics must be fun, because it definitely sounds a helluva lot more brash and exciting than what Scott Herren is doing these days. The track might be in the genre-netherworld between glitch-hop and euro-crunk, but it’s definitely an unabashed sequel to group’s last album opener with the French rap group TTC.

Modeselektor continue to gleefully plunder their own past as well as others for inspiration throughout the 18 tracks. One notable choice is Scooter and their Teutonic happy-hardcore schlockfest, “Hyper Hyper.” The original isn’t waiting to be rediscovered anytime soon, which makes Modeselektor’s locked-jaw and straight-faced cover even more perfect. Enlisting Otto Von Schirach for the vocal role of Wizard-gone-Return to Oz, with a couple flying monkeys in tow, “Hyper Hyper” is bound to make another generation of kids yell for hardcore all over again.

When the tempo slows, the duo is wise to make their music just as sonically juicy and epic. On their collaboration with Apparat, “Let Your Love Grow,” the group let a field of bulbous synths and trip-hop drum patterns sprout around Paul St. Hilaire, ending up with a dead ringer for Massive Attack. The track is a highlight but one that’s sure to be trumped in notoriety by “The White Flash.” The group’s best contribution to “White Flash” is to let Thom Yorke do what he does best (i.e. play lost angel in our dystopia and moaning into the abyss), and Yorke is perfectly laconic in return—he even twists the euphoric “you have all the time in the world” into something preciously fleeting.

Happy Birthday! constantly reminds me of something Vitalic said in an interview—”I like people screaming in the sound with explosions.” When Modeselektor don’t try to fit every scream and explosion into its folds, the album sags. Tacks like “BMI” and “The Wedding Toccata Theme” sound dull when set against the cartoon-ish extremes of a song like “The First Rebirth,” which comes alive by being chopped and crunked before your ears. Luckily, most of Happy Birthday! finds Modeselektor being so busy being loony tunes that there’s little time to sit still and be bored.

Bpitch Control / BPC 159CD
[Nate DeYoung]

May 5, 2006

Tiefschwarz feat. Tracey Thorn - Damage

Mallory O’Donnell: When their mix-n-remixes comp Misch Masch came out last year, I was hugely pumped for a Tiefschwarz full-length. But Eat Books was a vastly underwhelming affair, and how we’ve gotten four singles deep into it is simply beyond me. The sub-Sarah McLachlanisms of “Damage” certainly provide no answer. Having mastered their variations on both deep and acid house, a new direction is clearly needed for the mighty brothers Schwarz. However, a combination of tepid elements from both styles and a rote Tracey Thorn vocal does not constitute breaking any new ground. The “Dub Mix” brings in some more interesting sonics, clattering drums and sinister echoes livening up the track, but then those accursed vocals drop back in and we’re back in the acid-house Starbucks. M.A.N.D.Y. bring both a vocal and dub mix to the plate, and guess which one I prefer? Sounding a bit horror for the disco and a bit dancey for the bug-out, we at last have something that twists the track into some interesting shapes, but not yet enough to entice the listener (if they’ve made it this far) to fork over their hard-earned Euros.

However: whoever or whatever the Mogg Man Band is, they have (besides a horrible name) redeemed this one from the trashpile. Concocting a live band backdrop, they take us from the coffee shop to the dancefloor—a warm, two-minute buildup, some plinky guitar and enough swaddling draped ’round the vocal to keep it from intruding. Then the beat drops and we focus on the one non-throwaway line—”music is a lonely place”—before heading into jam land. If I could get it on a single piece of black plastic with the “Buick Project Remix,” we’d have something. The last version here, it’s not really that radically different from the original—but Buick Project seemed to have understood the brothers’ intent better than they did—scuzzing up and tweaking out the mix a bit, they deliver a combination of diva house and spastic funk that actually sounds proper rather than forced.

Ronan Fitzgerald: So what do you do when you’re stuck in the little gap between electrohouse and minimal? You hire other people who are more gracefully skipping through said gap to remix your single! Enter M.A.N.D.Y. with a typical M.A.N.D.Y. remix; that is to say, rather low key but decent quality deep electronic house, with a nice Garnier/Sanderson bassline. The truth is Tiefschwarz’s own gothy, metallic dub outdoes M.A.N.D.Y, but sadly it’s only a little evocative of the days when Tiefschwarz outdid everybody. Elsewhere Buick Project and the Mogg Man Band continue the overly polite theme for this 12. You had one nice but overly retro deep houser; now have 5!

Fine. / FOR 82876835471
Fine. / FOR 82876835861

April 10, 2006

If you didn’t come to party…

Dance Music per se came comparatively late in my life. Dancing to music occurred to me a good deal sooner—apparently as soon as I could stand, I was holding the stereo with both hands and shaking that baby ass. The first music I reacted to was hip-hop, followed by synth-pop and clubby goth like Siouxsie and the Sisters. Going out, junior high school dances aside, I was never one to hug the wall, preferring to contort myself like “an angry lesbian,” as a friend once put it. While this description hopefully no longer applies, I still feel absolutely no shame or self-confidence issues when I go to out to dance.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that other people, shocking as it is, don’t feel the same way at all. Dancing comes naturally to me, something that I do because it feels absolutely amazing. Whether it’s, say, The Pixies or the latest micro-whatever single that’s playing is beside the point. Hey, it doesn’t even have to be that good—just loud (but not too loud) and have some decent bass. BUT NOT TOO LOUD! People, seriously, turn the bass the fuck down. It sounds better when it trickles down your back like a tongue than when it vibrates the floor like a passing dumptruck. Most songs mixed with a dancefloor in mind already have a clean, full bass sound anyway, so your knob-twiddling is unnecessary.

But, back to the point—most people don’t seem to have this willingness to shake it that to me is second nature. It’s hard work getting many to dance—understandable at a wedding but a little less comprehensible at a night of DANCE MUSIC spun by a DJ. So, what are you here for then?

Do you not like to dance?
Have you checked your pulse lately?

Are you afraid of what you look like when you dance?
Look at us. We look like morons. Ain’t no stopping us, now.

Did you come only to get fucked up?
Dancing increases your blood-flow. You will get more fucked up if you dance.

Did you come only to try and get laid?
Standing at the bar is far less sexy than losing your inhibitions. This I can guarantee.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to be on the floor if they’re at a club. We all need to take it easy once in a while, and sometimes it’s best just to sit and chill for a spell. That’s more room for me to engage in my half-baked jazz moves. But please, if you’re going to be answering your cellphone in the middle of a crowded dancefloor, take that shit elsewhere.

Ultimately, more so than concerns about appropriate behavior on the floor, it’s the fear of dancing that boggles my mind. Put it another way—if the superficial concerns of what you look like are keeping you from dancing, then it must be hard even to put on clothes and face the world. Do you think most people in a club environment are judging you on your dancing ability?

It’s much more likely, if they are stupid enough to go that route, they are disparaging how you look in general. In fact, they’re probably one of the onlookers like yourself. When one is dancing, you’re not paying much attention to the appearance and skills of others. Feeling the beat and moving in accordance are far more important.

In my time dancing and DJing in this country I have noticed a disturbing lack of response to a solid beat. If you’re only looking for what you know, then the creative void of radio should suit you just fine. If you can only dance when you are inebriated, then do us all a favor and get royally messed up. If you don’t dig on dancing at all, then please free up the space for the living, breathing, dancing, dreaming human beings out there. There are those of us who love to feel our bodies (and the bodies of others, natch) get pure, scandalous thrills off of drums, synths and heavy (but not too loud) bass.

Like Pharoahe Monche said, “if you holdin’ up the wall then you missin’ the point.”

[Mallory O’Donnell]