Review Summary: Filthy results.
When I saw Death From Above 1979 on The Physical World
tour, it felt like I was watching two different versions of the band, spliced seamlessly on top of one another. For a couple guys who hadn’t played together in years to somehow retain that raw and infuriated trash compactor of a sound, while expanding and refining it with the polish and professionalism that a decade-plus in the industry can’t help but bring – it was impressive. More importantly, the show was a blast. Whatever The Physical World
failed to deliver on record, DFA1979 brought it live, and then some: I walked out of that show with my ears ringing and high on a supply of RIFFZ. Then I walked across the street to see MSTRKRFT, who were set to take the stage at a club not thirty minutes after DFA1979 finished their encore.
Jesse Keeler’s side project with producer Al-P, like DFA1979, has never been subtle. Where DFA1979 bludgeons PBR-swilling twenty-somethings nostalgic for the mid-'00s with just bass, drums, and a caterwauling frontman, MSTRKRFT goes straight for the ecstasy-enlarged jugular with its own brand of hard, dumbly maximal electro beats. Seeing Keeler get on that stage with time to spare, hair still sweaty from the previous gig, only reinforced that MSTRKRFT is little more than a vehicle for Keeler to entertain his filthiest techno impulses, something he clearly loves to do. They’ve never shied away from this disposability, though. Their last record, 2009’s Fist of God
, coasted on Ed Banger’s popularity with guest spots like John Legend and Ghostface Killah, nakedly aiming for that festival slot or next car commercial. There’s none of that to be found on Operator
; frankly, no one was waiting for a new MSTRKRFT album anyways. It’s obvious, though, that MSTRKRFT isn’t trying to bring in new fans. The most noticeable guest vocalist here is Converge’s Jacob Bannon on the hyper-aggressive closer “Go On Without Me,” which sounds like what must be playing in Satan’s own rave. The song is an exaggeration of everything that comes before, Keeler obviously taking some perverse pleasure in seeing how far those “Heartbreaker” fans will let him go. By itself, it’s a horrendous, grating tune. In the context of the album, it’s the proper conclusion to a record that loves to play in the dirt.
Perhaps the collection that most takes after Keeler’s relentless fretwork in DFA1979, Operator
focuses almost exclusively on analog sounds and a driving, distorted mix of techno and electro that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at a SebastiAn concert years ago. Some may call it dated, but given current EDM trends it’s much more a breath of fresh air. Opener “Wrong Glass Sir” is a minimal sneer, building up through thudding toms and dissonant synths that cut across the range on a steady rhythm – when the bass is brought back midway through the song, violent and buzzing, it’s an irrepressible statement: you’re not gonna find this sh
it in Vegas. Operator
is more industrial than their bid for pop crossovers last decade, drenched in layers of distortion and rarely slowing to catch its amphetamine-fueled breath. There’s a touch of Boys Noize in the dizzying 8-bit nightmare of “Death In The Gulf Stream,” those ominous Justice synths backdropping Nation of Ulysees’ Ian Svenonius on the glitchy, defiantly anti-melody “Party Line,” and Bloody Beetroots’ virulent noise in the schizophrenic disco dystopia of “Little Red Hen.” The guest spots are indicative of MSTRKFT’s attitude here: Svenonius, Sonny Kay from Angel Hair on the DFA1979-aping earsplitter “Priceless,” the aforementioned Bannon, as abrasive as ever. Even when they aspire to a single – “Runaway,” with its melodic vocal hook, comes the closest – it sounds like a cry to battle, the low end roiling dangerously against those motorized synths, constantly shifting and shattering against themselves.
is hardly easy listening, and its constant callbacks to a different era can be wearying by the end of a record that delights in bashing you upside the head with thoroughly anarchic beats. And when MSTRKRFT slow down, as they do as a sort of intermission on the shuffling, circular “Playing With Itself,” one has to ask: why" MSTRKRFT and Keeler have never been ones for half measures. Operator’s
overall refusal to do just that, its inexorable 808 death march through a digital hell, makes it MSTRKRFT’s best album yet, not to mention an impressive approximation of DFA1979’s live show, in spirit if not in sound. PLUR this ain’t – if getting kicked in the teeth and rolling in the mud is your idea of a good time, MSTRKRFT have the soundtrack.