Until this set, Celebration was a band encumbered by uniqueness. Their debut record, like their previous incarnation as Love Life, presented atmospheric rock that was dense to the point of impenetrable, even as it gave off appealing creep. Katrina Ford has a voice that's rough and woody, with sudden spikes of clear tone. It's low, so low that resolving her range with that womanly delivery takes some getting used to. The backing is dominated by vintage organs, while the drummer works in thick and irregular patterns. That's three eccentric sounds tangling for attention. They find enough contrast that their sound has always been striking, but keeping it all together hasn't left much room for fully-formed songs. Still, with their odd instrumentation, and vocals that are more sublime than pretty, it made sense that 4AD picked them up. Some of 4AD's greatest artists were slow starters.
The Modern Tribe finds them catching up with all the promise. The songs have refrains that actually resemble hooks. Maybe that means they've grown a little less strange, but the blurriness remains. Like the best of 4AD, it's not easy to coax the meaning out of what they're singing about, and it's as satisfying to try to decipher their code as it is to let it wash past.
“Heartbreak” is their best song yet. It starts with spare taps. Voice and Wurlitzer engage in a hymn-like melody. It accumulates the natural elements of the band's sound – blobs of bass, sparkling keys, a marching snare. Halfway through, the song picks up a stuttering horn section, and breaks into the full-fledged hook of "I'm addicted to you.” The hymn transforms into parade, all brass and swirling chimes. It's cold and it's lush. Built from incongruous tones and overlapping phrases, the grandeur is straightforward.
They follow with a batch of rougher songs, closer to their old pagan lounge lizard mode. The mix of tribal percussion, jagged scales and nightmare voices makes it hard not to think Birthday Party, but that influence was far more obvious in their earlier recordings. They've found their own way with those dark tools.