The latest incarnation of Katrina Ford and Sean Antanaitis' ongoing musical collaboration (which stretches back to the chaos of their early-'90s noise-punk band Jaks and the only slightly more restrained gothic romance of Love Life), Celebration's self-titled debut album harks back to the dark, spiky, yet free-flowing post-punk with which 4AD originally made its name. Even if the music the pair makes now is slightly gentler than it was in the Jaks and Love Life years, it's still remarkably intense: Ford's deep, commanding, borderline androgynous voice draws apt comparisons to both Shirley Bassey and Diamanda Galás, and her ability to veer quickly from ferocious to sensual and back again remains effectively unsettling. Meanwhile, Antanaitis' various keyboards -- including carnival-esque organs and the guitorgan, a guitar/organ hybrid -- are an equally strong, dramatic force to be reckoned with. Though their styles of expression could overpower each other, on Celebration they work well together; the theatricality of his keyboards makes a wonderful backdrop for her singing, and her voice has a soulfulness and urgency that keeps the music from ever sounding campy. Helping Celebration pull off this balancing act, with only a few wobbles, is friend/collaborator/producer/TV on the Radio member David Sitek (who also introduced the band to 4AD). Production-wise, Sitek is at the top of his game, making sure the music's intensity never becomes too claustrophobic. With the presence of other TV on the Radio players on almost every track on the album, Celebration sometimes sounds like a parallel version of that band with an impassioned female singer instead of an impassioned male one, especially since Ford's vocals on TVOTR songs like "Staring at the Sun" added to their uniqueness. However, Celebration ends up being distinctive in its own right, especially since tracks such as "Holiday" and "Stars" are actually quite beautiful, which is virtually uncharted territory for Antanaitis and Ford. Meanwhile, the nightmarish sea shanty "Good Ship" shows that the duo can be just as terrifying at slower speeds as it was at a punk pace. Some of the album's more violent-sounding songs get a little too unfocused and histrionic, but the tightly constructed ones, such as "New Skin," have a deadly aim. Nevertheless, this is still some of the best music Ford and Antanaitis have made in their decade-plus career. Theatrical and heartfelt, Celebration is a fully realized debut that promises even better things to come.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares