ctually Modeselektor are excited to become cartoons. The group’s last couple of album covers are giddily aware of it. Inside the latest album’s cover and on its portly made-for-CD running-time, Modeselektor pound away with ACME anvils and beep beep through open ranges—covering the distance between bangers and ballads. Or, to be fair, it’s just bangers and ballads. That’s it. Let’s not take away from Modeselektor’s strengths. I guess the pair is also good at bastardizing genres and music scenes. Their debut album wasn’t named “Hello Dad!” for a reason. Happy Birthday! just begs to be described in a pragmatic word like “chock-full,” but here’s an overlooked factoid—it’s the first album to be graced by one Thom Yorke which isn’t worried about being capital-t Tasteful. At all.
Being tasteless suits the band just fine. With “2000007,” it also lets them out-prefuse Prefuse 73. Not stuck explaining their exquisite band name or racial politics must be fun, because it definitely sounds a helluva lot more brash and exciting than what Scott Herren is doing these days. The song might be in the genre-netherworld between glitch-hop and euro-crunk, but it’s definitely an unabashed sequel to group’s last album opener with the French rap group TTC. Let’s just say that Modeselektor gleefully plunder their own past as well as others for inspiration. Others include Scooter and their Teutonic happy-hardcore schlockfest, “Hyper Hyper.” The original isn’t waiting to be rediscovered anytime soon, which makes Modeselektor’s locked-jaw and straight-faced cover even more perfect. Enlisting Otto Von Schirach for the vocal role of Wizard-gone-Return to Oz, with a couple flying monkeys in tow, “Hyper Hyper” is bound to make another generation of kids yell for hardcore all over again.
When the tempo slows, the duo is wise to make their music just as sonically juicy and epic. On the Modeselektor’s collaboration with Apparat, “Let Your Love Grow,” the group let a field of bulbous synths sprout around Paul St. Hilaire. Plugging away with drum patterns that tickle St. Hilaire into his trip-hop roots, the song is a dead ringer for Massive Attack. The track is no small highlight but one that’s sure to be trumped by “The White Flash.” The group’s best contribution to “White Flash” is to let Thom Yorke do what he does best (i.e. play lost angel in our dystopia and moaning into the abyss). Yorke is perfectly laconic—he even twists the euphoric “you have all the time in the world” into something preciously fleeting.
Happy Birthday! constantly reminds me of something Vitalic said in an interview—“I like people screaming in the sound with explosions...” When Modeselektor don’t try to fit every scream and explosion into its folds, the album sags. But tracks like “BMI” and “The Wedding Toccata Theme” are only dull when set against the cartoon-ish extremes of a song like “The First Rebirth.” Doused in twee Max Tundra synths, “The First Rebirth” only comes alive when chopped and crunked before your ears. With Happy Birthday!, Modeselektor are so busy being loony tunes that only when they’re forced to sit still do they sound bored.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2007-09-14