MSTRKRFT tries to kick start stalling sound with new direction

Chris Duncan

Although the infectious and grimy grooves of Death from Above 1979’s debut album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine brought the band’s bassist Jesse Keeler and producer Alex Puodziukas straight into the limelight of modern punk, the 2004 venture wasn’t the first time the two had worked together – As far back as the 1990s, Keeler and Al-P bonded over their love of house music.

Since forming MSTRKRFT in 2005, the duo has focused solely on using modular synthesizers, vocoders and patching techniques to pay homage to old-school EDM while bringing in modern influences from pop. All told, both their debut The Looks and 2009’s Fist of God lacked the gall of their DFA sound, feeling gimmicky in a genre full of corny electronic sounds. With their comeback album Operator, Al-P and Keeler attempt an artsier look at house, finding success in some moments but leaving listeners unimpressed in others.

Right from the offset, it’s obvious that Operator makes few compromises to appeal to large audiences. Punk plays an obvious role, stripping down the fluff in favor of intuition. Whereas Fist of God blatantly featured artists such as John Legend, Operator’s occasional feature is subtly integrated. The album’s opener “Wrong Glass Sir” is a fast-paced banger that favors a raw sound, seemingly made for drunken moshing.

From there, the album continues at a consistent pace with singles “Runaway” and “Little Red Hen,” two glitchy and contagious tracks with well-layered synths and drum machines. However, the album runs straight into a wall when the vocals of “Priceless” kick in. Although artist-turned-musician Sonny Kay wasn’t a bad choice for this song, the gritty effect on his voice paired with such a minimal beat leaves three solid minutes void of almost any redeeming characteristics.

Operator struggles to recover from this abysmal fourth track, and its subsequent songs draw more on industrial trop house rather than the band’s original punk influences. Aside from the slimy trickle-esque synth in the background of “Death in the Gulf Stream,” almost every component of each remaining song on the LP feels repetitive.

An album of this nature would be forgivable if Operator was MSTRKRFT’s debut, but this project was six years in the making. Not even the album’s strong concluding track, “Go on Without Me,” a song that carries the largest sonic palette of any on Operator, can bring this record back from such a lull.

Operator is the album that The Looks should have been – a punk-infused house jam session with moments that harken back to MSTRKRFT remixes of Death from Above songs. However, 11 years after the group’s founding, it simply feels like they’re back to square one. Although the album’s aim of being a simple, fun-loving experience found success, MSTRKRFT had the potential to create something amazing and struck out looking. Fans are just going to have to wait for their next at bat to see if they finally hit it out of the park.

  • Album: Operator
  • Tracks: 10
  • Genre: Electro House
  • Rating: 4/10