Release Date: Jul 22, 2016
Record label: Last Gang Records
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
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.
MSTRKRFT's third outing is a U-turn to back to their 2006 debut, The Looks. On Operator, the Canadian duo of Jesse F. Keeler and Alex "Al-P" Puodziukas ditch the booming Justice-lite of their sophomore effort, Fist of God, and offer their die-hard fans a serving of straightforward electro-house that plays more like a solid DJ set than a collection of singles with featured guests.
It's been seven years since MSTRKRFT duo Jesse F. Keeler and Al-P's last album, Fist of God, hit shelves, which is by no means a small amount of time. It's enough time to have a couple of kids, reform Keeler's other band (Death From Above 1979) for a new album and, perhaps most importantly, do a complete overhaul of their sound and process.What was once a candied display of computerized electro is now a sinister parade of techno-punk; where the likes of Ghostface Killah and John Legend once lent their talents are now Sonny Kay and Ian Svenonius.
Even before Death from Above 1979 went nuclear in 2006, leaving behind a miasma of ringing ears and beer-stained v-necks, MSTRKRFT had already formed with hopes of producing even sexier results. Bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler and producer Alex Puodziukas (a.k.a. Al-P, who also manned the boards for You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine) chose a glossy, vocoder-heavy approach to electro-house years before bloghouse would go mainstream.
Is it too soon to fetishise the noughties? Toronto’s MSTRKRFT – aka Jesse F Keeler from Death From Above 1979 and cohort Al-P – return after five years’ absence with a blast from the not-too-distant past. Operator harks back to a time when aggressive dance music didn’t just mean EDM. Analogue equipment and some rockist dynamics – a little redolent of Justice here, a nod to Chemical Brothers there – invigorate this busy, anachronistic record.
For their first album in five years, Canadian electronic music agitators MSTRKRFT – composed of Death From Above 1979’s Jeese F. Keeler and producer AI-P – wanted to make a “techno record with a punk aesthetic”. It’s probably sensible then that Keeler and AI-P recruited a host of punk musicians collaborate with in order to do this. The result is chaotic and hard-hitting enough to be called punk(ish) but it’s really their choice to use vocals on a few tracks that separates it from their last record, 2009’s ‘Fist of God’.
Canadian electronic duo MSTRKRFT are well-known largely for two reasons. First, one-half of the group is Jesse F. Keeler, while the other half, Al-P, produced Jesse's band Death From Above 1979's seminal You're a Woman, I'm a Machine. The second is, they've been commissioned to the same overly-distorted remix every band or artist under the sun ranging from Bloc Party or Wolfmother right through to Katy Perry or Kylie Minogue.
It shouldn’t be surprising that “Priceless”, off of MSTRKRFT’s new album Operator, sounds exactly like a Death From Above 1979 track. After all, the duo was started by DFA co-founder Jesse F. Keeler. Guest vocalist Sonny Kay does his best to impersonate DFA’s Sebastian Grainger. But where ….
Ah, the heady days of mid-2000s dance music, for which enough time has now passed to officially allow for nostalgia, especially as French electro-house duo Justice and their rowdier Canadian cousins, MSTRKRFT, have returned. Its anthems were maximal, lacerated by heavy metal and bruising synths, but as contagious as a moshpit. On their first album in seven years, the duo of Jesse F Keeler (also of dance-punks Death from Above 1979) and AL-P appear to want to bludgeon these memories out of focus.
Pity that Operator, the comeback offering from Canadian electronic duo MSTRKRFT, doesn't sound more like its fifth track, the lasciviously titled Playing With Itself. Loaded with a sexually charged, distorted swagger, and overlaid with ghostly gospel vocal samples, the mid-album tune oozes the kind of depraved aesthetic that would make Nine Inch Nails proud. It's one of Operator's most interesting moments, and a promising line of enquiry for MSTRKRFT's hardcore-spiked dance music.
operator (n.): a person who uses and controls something (such as a machine…) Well, you can’t knock MSTRKRFT for picking a title that doesn’t fit. On their first album in seven years, and released nearly ten years to the day after their debut The Looks, MSTRKRFT comes off as little more than machine operators, button-pushers for whom there’s no discernible difference between creating noise and creating sound. With the continually progressive and impressive places electronic music and its satellite genres are going, Operator is a regression to the uninspiring basics.
A lot has changed in dance music since MSTRKRFT’s 2009 album, Fist Of God, and on their new record the Toronto electronic duo waste no time establishing that they’ve also gone through their own transformation. The frenetic 909 snare roll and apocalyptic synth riff of opening track Wrong Glass Sir have almost nothing in common with the dance rock they made their name with except for their ongoing love of distortion. If you were hoping for a blog house revival, Jesse F.
After Death From Above 1979 split in 2006, Jesse F. Keeler immediately started focusing full-time on his electronic duo project, MSTRKRFT. The two groups shared a penchant for beat-borne aggression, but little else: DFA 1979 favored thrashing screampunk, while MSTRKRFT stuck to club-ready electro-disco. Over time, however—especially with the former’s 2011 reunion and enduring popularity—the gap between the two projects has narrowed.
Given the long pauses between Death From Above 1979 albums, it almost feels wrong to describe MSTRKRFT as a side project of Jesse F. Keeler, the bearded frontman and bassist of the seminal Toronto dance punk band. Where his work with DFA1979 sees him emit throbbing basslines imbued with punk spirit, MSTRKRFT is a vehicle for him to explore the flipside of his musical interests.
This past month was a generally slow one in terms of album releases, and yet Carl and I were able to find some true gems that will surely stick with us through the entire year. I was downright elated every time I spun the rather joyful Wildflower, The Avalanches comeback statement, while Carl ….