Modeselektor Happy Birthday

[BPitch Control; 2007]

Styles: hip-hop, idm, glitch
Others: Feadz, Funkstorung, Apparat

Some might suggest that the attention recently served to Modeselektor's sophomore effort Happy Birthday is primarily due to one key guest artist -- who will remain unnamed until later in the review -- especially when considering the relative lack of attention they received stateside for their debut, Hello Mom. While this suggestion is probably true, this particular collaboration shouldn't be the only element of note on what is yet another eclectic album crafted by Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary.

The most apparent aspect of Modeselektor is the fidgety nature in which they channel their influences. To the uninitiated, however, it can seem like Dissociative Identity Disorder. This is why a barrage of descriptors are continually thrown at their music; it's part of an effort to categorize them, assumedly in hopes that one of the terms will eventually stick. Though these categories are ambitious and oftentimes hilarious -- I'll keep the humor to myself -- Bronsert and Szary are ultimately navigating through the creation of their own language, allowing it to breathe and develop naturally by its own will. It is not that they are style-hopping as much as style-filtering, and ultimately it all makes perfect sense in the flow of the album.

Instrumentals like "Edgar" and "The Wedding Toccata Theme" owe as much a debt to the tonal atmospherics and percussive work of Autechre or Funkstorung, as tracks like "Sucker Pin" and "Black Block" are indebted to the pounding assault of Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb and which would fit nicely alongside Nitzer’s "Let Beauty Loose" and "Let Your Body Learn," respectively. Not to insinuate any of these tracks are homages or rip-offs -- instead, their work seeks to rejuvenate "lost" ideas, and they engage in this practice with great tenacity, fusing it to an identity of their own. It is during this fusion, in fact, when the greatest affect is achieved, such as on "Godspeed" or "The First Rebirth," and the references take a backseat to the voices in the present as opposed to the past.

The remainder of the vocal tracks are greatly successful, featuring guests such as TTC, Paul St. Hilaire, Puppetmastaz, Otto Von Schirach and, yes, Thom Yorke (apparently Maximo Park as well, though the track was curiously missing from my review copy). The hard grind of TTC-led "200007" and the gorgeous skyscratch of Hilaire's "Let Your Love Grow" are definitely the highlights, though the Yorke piece is equally affecting in its melancholia, a track that's similar to the trip-hop Outcast project that Beaumont Hannant was part of in 1996.

Modeselektor's successful navigation of both the pop and club-oriented music spheres is quite admirable, especially when considering how the latter usually stumbles quite noticeably whenever associated with the former. But this ability to explore both avenues with equal effect edges them above similar-minded contemporaries, and the slightly increased maturity found on the album results in a greater reward previous efforts were unable to offer. Happy Birthday is unquestionably another step forward in Modeselektor's unique partnership, and while Yorke's presence might have lured in the curious, the greatest impact is all their own making.

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