So let me start out by saying I’m not an aficionado when it comes to electronica. I’m really just an outsider looking in that finds himself drawn to the beats and noisy synths. I feel EDM, techno, and house music like I feel jazz, hip hop, and classical music; that is to say I feel it on a visceral level. It’s a tactile musical art form. You feel it and you react to it. When there’s a crowd of people in an abandoned warehouse sweating and pulsating to heavy bass and synth riffs they’re not looking for meaning between the breakbeats and dive-bombing low end. The meaning is being created as the music hits you in the face and sweat rolls down your back. No explanation needed.
MSTRKRFT was introduced to me years ago by a pal in-the-know of such bands. I wasn’t a techno/dance fan, but something about those two albums, The Looks and Fist Of God, resonated with me. It was more Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy than the mainstream dance-y stuff. This Canadian duo worked on the fringes of pure dance and techno, but still retained an air of experimentation. They may have made music for folks to lose their minds to in a sweaty dance space, but these two guys were artists, painting the air with skronky analog synths, filters, and mixing boards. After seven years, a few non-album singles, and some remix credits Jesse F. Keeler(of Death From Above 1979) and Al-P have returned with the great and noisy Operator. On its 10 songs, Operator runs the gamut of old school techno, house, and electronica while still feeling like a pared down duo losing their minds with a bunch of analog equipment. MSTRKRFT sounds more like mad scientists than party hosts.
“Wrong Glass Sir” opens with 808-like snare hits before going four on the floor old school techno. It’s an everything but the kitchen sink vibe. The track is almost saying “look what we can do”, before smirking, shifting gears, and letting some darkness in. The beauty in what Keeler and Al-P do is they let that air of experimentation into what could’ve been a standard techno muscle flex. Maybe it’s that air of punk rock that permeates the proceedings that doesn’t allow these two to ever hit auto pilot so they can go get an overpriced drink at the bar. But then you immediately fall into a track like “Runaway”, which is a total pop/dance powerhouse. MSTRKRFT aren’t afraid to collaborate with singers(and MCs) and their use of vocals on this track makes for a stunning display of pop smarts and dance floor mastery. “Little Red Hen” is another flawless, old school techno track. Something to get lost in. “Playing With Itself” sounds like a telephone dialing through a Frequency Analyzer as handclaps and a kick bass accompany it. Then you get to a track like “Party Line” and you feel like you’re falling into some endless void of analog synths, circuit boards, and rogue square waves. This is the kind of song your average purveyor of dance music doesn’t delve into. This is what it will sound like when the robots take over.
Elsewhere, “Death In The Gulf Stream” and “World Peace” keep the groove moving effortlessly, while “Morning Of The Hunt” starts out like Wendy Carlos’ The Shining S/T before blips of synth create a pattern between your ears. “Go On Without Me” ends the album on what sounds like android black metal. Screaming and heavily affected vocals gargle glass and blood over a repetitive guitar/drum duo of doom.
A noisy and apocalyptic goodbye.
So my vernacular may not be up to speed in the dance/techno department, but I know what I like, and I like MSTRKRFT. Operator shows these two Canadians in top form, and their brand of electronic voodoo as sharp as ever.