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Modeselektor - Monkeytown

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Artist: Modeselektor

Album: Monkeytown

Label: Monkeytown

Review date: Oct. 4, 2011

Like The Bug and Four Tet, Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary have an uncanny ability to co-opt trends without seeming like “me too” latecomers. The Berlin duo haven’t really been at the vanguard of any particular scene, but they’ve been completely successful at integrating a variety of sounds into a unique aesthetic, and their production quality is no doubt related to having fantastic ears. Their Modeselektion and 50 Weapons releases serve as terrific primers for those looking to discover forward-thinking artists from across the dance music spectrum. Put simply, these guys know what’s up.

If Monkeytown feels more like a scene product than other Modeselektor releases, it’s because genre-hopping is now the name of the game. When Modeselektor released its first album Hi Mom! in 2005, the techno, U.K. bass and hip hop communities were much further apart than they are today. There’s no longer any novelty or freshness per se in what Modeselektor do. I wouldn’t say that the concept is only worth a shrug just yet, but at this point, something more than a willingness to dabble in variety is needed.

And this is where those ears and production skills come in handy. In fact, my favorite tracks on Monkeytown are the ones that feel most in tune with current trends. Martyn easily could have released “German Clap” on his 3024 label. The track employs a straightforward U.K. funky beat, with extra emphasis on the kick, plus the expected female vocal snippets and escalating synths. You know what this sounds like, but it’s hard to do it better than how Modeselektor do it here. Elsewhere, “Evil Twin” taps into some of the demented electro sounds favored by the Swamp81 crew, augmented by Modeselektor’s standard crunk and a bit of guest Otto von Schirach’s IDM edge. And “Berlin,” featuring vocals from Miss Platnum, easily fits in with the more laid-back electronic R&B that folks like Brackles play out.

Other collaborations on Monkeytown are less successful. Busdriver and Anti Pop Consortium acquit themselves, but their songs are less far-out and not nearly as fun as the best of hip hop radio. “Everyday (Coolin’)” and “Rich & Flexin” do circles around their tracks. And if you weren’t a fan of Thom Yorke’s guest vocals on the Burial/Four Tet Text Records’ 12” and earlier Modeselektor releases, his two tracks here won’t change your mind. Post-Hail to the Thief, he’s been unwilling to really belt it out and either overuses his falsetto or simply mumbles. On “This,” he’s in pure mumble mode, and he somehow manages to combine his mumble with his falsetto on “Shipwreck.”

Whiffs and near-whiffs necessarily come with this territory, though. Modeselektor’s willingness to collaborate and explore sounds while still sticking to their identifiable, fat, bass-heavy crunk techno style is worth applauding, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t continue to remain relevant.

By Brad LaBonte

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