The Modern Tribe
t isn't Celebration's fault they come packaged with easy comparisons. Katrina Ford, the Baltimore trio's frontwoman, played backup singer for tracks on Return To Cookie Mountain, and The Modern Tribe is not only produced by TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek but features, nestled somewhere amidst the fuzz and percussion, the rest of the band. Also, Nick Zinner.
But even if Celebration didn't come to more than an amalgamation of well-timed influences, they'd deserve to be evaluated as more than such. To be sure, Sitek's fingerprints—and his band's—are all over The Modern Tribe, but the record's not thick with them; the word auteur probably does apply, but we oughta be bashful about using it. Celebration, like TV On The Radio, are often more about rhythm and atmosphere than melody—"Pressure," probably the firmest point of contact here, stews and growls for five minutes before dissolving into a persistent fog of organ, and Katrina Ford doesn't so much sing it as hike along its waveform warbling, which is what a lot of Return To Cookie Mountain sounded like.
Much of the album swings between songs like this and less monolithic fare, in which Ford's light, roomy voice goes its own way, but the band's best in between, writing loose pop songs in danger of becoming art installations. A song like "Pony," materializing in a rattle of brass and cantering off beneath Ford's staccato gasp, reminds you of a lot of stuff if you work at it, but more interesting is the way it seems, like fellow propulsive track "Fly the Fly," to be riding precariously just above pits of spiky noise, as if Ford and company can only keep themselves together for so long. It's tense music not because it's about danger or evokes it but because it itself seems to be in danger—of falling apart, of losing control of the signal-to-noise ratio. Drummer David Bergander jitters through these tracks like he's stopped making sense; Ford, sharing percussion duties herself, never seems to mean to get as frantic as she does, which means you're more inclined to follow her. When she's relaxed, intoning leisurely mantras on "Tame the Savage," she's confident and regal, and though the album's more stable material suffers beside the frenetic highlights it has a stateliness that'll do fine.
It opens on the poppy soft-sell of "Evergreen," but despite its swampy strengths The Modern Tribe is rarely an immediate record. Its best moments—the hysterical polyrhythms of "Hands Off My Gold," the skittering, milky finale "Our Hearts Don't Change"—take a while to percolate through their self-installed loam; the songs that hit more quickly have faded by the time their siblings arrive. It's in this that Celebration are most like their feted friends, which bodes well: of bands that sound like TV On The Radio we need only one, but of bands that flower as dreamily and unexpectedly we need all we can get.