Mahjongg - "Miami Nights" (The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger)
The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger, the third album from Chicago’s Mahjongg, is a contradictory album, sometimes pushing toward dancefloor bliss, sometimes stylistically toppling in on itself. It falls into the dance-friendly side of the post-punk subgenre, a stylistic avenue responsible for musical ventures both thrilling (LCD Soundsystem, !!!) and … less so (any number of electroclash bands).
At its best, there’s an experimental spirit audible on The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger that keeps the listener intentionally unmoored. “Gooble” opens the album with some Konono No.1-esque electronic squalls, and even if it never attains the heights of The Ex’s similarly-inspired “Theme From Konono,” it still hints at an album in which disparate elements will be mixed and matched. The nine-minute “Grooverider Free,” with an evolving beat and a penchant for disassembling and rebuilding vocals, is another highlight, and serves as evidence that, at its peak, this group can write and arrange dance music that satisfies on a number of levels.
In certain instances, however, the same elements that make for dynamic songcraft elsewhere on the album can also prompt stumbles. “LA Beat” closes the album with vocodered vocals and a steady, static beat. The result doesn’t recall post-punk experimentalism as much as it does Underworld at its least interesting. And “Devry” saddles itself with some woozily manipulated vocals at its opening, an effect that sounds slightly dated and leaves the song without much space in which to evolve.
The same qualities that make The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger interesting -- its use of percussion, its willingness to treat everything as grounds for manipulation -- also lead to its weakest moments. It’s not a bad record, and its best moments can be exhilarating. But Mahjongg’s approach frustrates more often than it should.