The Crystal Method Divided By Night

[Tiny e; 2009]

Styles: techno, big beat, funky breaks
Others: The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Hardknox

It has been over a decade since California's Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland joined forces to create the immortal 1997 party opus Vegas. Although that album only went as high as #92 on the U.S. Billboard charts, it would in time become one of the biggest-selling original electronic records in history, earning its platinum status in 2007. Bridging the gap between rock, breakbeat, and hip-hop, the record rode the peak of the big beat movement to announce the presence of American-made electronica in the mainstream. It acted as the stepping-stone for many North Americans to cross over from acoustic-based music -- myself included.

Tweekend came along four years later and offered us the same basic album, moving more in line with the rock aesthetic. Scott Weiland and Doug Grean of Stone Temple Pilots helped out on the single "Murder (You Know It Hard)," and Tom Morello (the guitarist from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave) lent his guitar mutilations to the record's other two singles, "Wild, Sweet and Cool" and the highly successful "Name of the Game." Meanwhile, 2004's Legion Of Boom maintained the hip-hop image with three Rahkel appearances. It also went a step further in the rock direction by using Limp Bizkit's Wes Borland on three cuts, as well as featuring assistance from John Garcia (Kyuss), Lisa Kekaula (The BellRays), and Jon Brion.

Divided By The Night, the group's latest, is even more swamped with guest appearances than its predecessors, including the efforts of Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, New Order's Peter Hook, Matisyahu, Stephanie King and her husband Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge, indie darling Meiko, and Metric's Emily Haines, among others. Jordan and Kirkland hardly have a moment to themselves on the entire record. Since Vegas was made with hardly any outside interference, it is hard not to see the continually expanding collaborative nature of these albums as a distraction, especially considering Divided is neither more developed nor complex than their debut.

Timelessness is often a desirable trait in music, but in this case, Divided makes the achievements of Vegas seem less impressive in retrospect. The lack of effort shown by Divided exposes the formulaic nature of the debut's construction. Conversely, the odd bit of recycling to be heard on the album is not as obvious as the Vegas self-sampling found on Tweekend, like how "Wild, Sweet And Cool" reconstituted "Vapor Trail," and the "wooo" from "Roll It Up" sounds identical to the one in "Cherry Twist." At the very least, I suppose they have gotten a little better at covering their unoriginal tracks. Still, a good half of the album consists of all the same basic big-beat song structures they were using over a decade ago. Divided could have been released a decade ago and few would have guessed any different. In 2009, the album is old hat.

The other half consists of a hodgepodge of rocktronic hybrids portraying various degrees of inspiration. While Vegas was a comparatively minimal work produced by two motivated individuals with something to prove, Divided chokes under the weight of its own collaborations, much like Legion Of Boom. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it is just silly, but the fact is there are too many fingers in this pie.

Warfield's post-punk electro "Kling To The Wreckage" should probably be on one of his She Wants Revenge albums. "Sine Language" does not work at all. Some nobody rapper named LMFAO uses that track to say he likes when women cook him breakfast, and he especially likes when they cook naked. (Obviously, he has never had anyone cook him breakfast naked. Have you ever tried frying bacon bare-assed? There is an awful lot of intensely hot spatter to deal with. Trust me, it's no fun.)

Without excessive outside interference, "Smile" is one of the album's stronger tracks. It shows the duo pushing (or, more accurately, nudging) the boundaries of their genre to include more Younger Brother and less Chemical Brothers influence, unable to hide behind another big name and the sound that name happened to bring to the newly christened Crystalwerks studio that day. However, both the equally unassisted title track and "Double Down Under" rank as two of the album's most forgettable pieces, flying solo is not a quality guarantee either.

The collaborations do occasionally work. The turn Emily Haines takes on "Come Back Clean" is an interesting ode to Japanese pop, shifting focus between dubby beats, tin can percussion, funk bass, and epic 80s synths. "Black Rainbow" chugs along well with a moody Border Community-style techno instrumental -- though, it is hard to say if Stephanie King Warfield's vocals help the track all that much. The closing "Falling Hard" is definitely one of the most intriguing tracks here, pushing Meiko's lovey singer-songwriter persona into a realm of industrial bass and choice melodic guitar progression with digitally grinding rain swirling around it, only coming into focus at the appearance of a bold piano.

The reason every Crystal Method album since Vegas has landed in the thirties on the Billboard charts is same reason the last five Nickelback records have gone platinum: they both rely on predictable formulas. It's probably time The Crystal Method went back to their roots, back before all the big names came knocking, and produced an album that means something in the context of today's electronic music scene, to actually push boundaries and not simply place genres together and take a picture. Divided By Night has few worthy moments and a whole bunch earmarked for the couple of Fast & Furious films. The guys still have the goods, but this album will not be well-remembered.

1. Divided By Night feat. Jon Brion
2. Dirty Thirty feat. Peter Hook
3. Drown In The Now feat. Matisyahu
4. Kling To The Wreckage feat. Justin and Stefanie King Warfield
5. Smile?
6. Sine Language feat. LMFAO & Jon Brion
7. Double Down Under
8. Come Back Clean feat. Emily Haines
9. Slipstream feat. Jason Lytle
10. Black Rainbows feat. Stefanie King Warfield
11. Blunts & Robots feat. Peter Hook and Ill Bill
12. Falling Hard feat. Meiko

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