About a decade and a half into their career, and four busy years since the maximalist pleasure-seeking of 2007's Happy Birthday!, the Berlin-based knob-twiddlers of Modeselektor return, ditching Bpitch Control for their own Monkeytown label to release their third proper full-length, which shares the appropriately simian name of said imprint. As that title suggests, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary have not abandoned their characteristic, merrily deviant ways: monkeying with the staid conventions of German techno, muddling the lines of genre and good taste, and enlisting a motley assortment of co-conspirators to assist them in these deeds. As with earlier efforts, Monkeytown filches fitfully from glitch, techno, IDM, hip-hop, rave, bass music, and (more prominently here) dreamy, textural electro-pop, often seemingly sequenced for maximum disorientation. Take the four-song run that opens the album: the genial, gently twitchy ambient-crunk of "Blue Clouds"; the all-out bloop-rap cartoonery of "Pretentious Friends" (which gives the always entertaining Busdriver -- filling a role frequently assumed by TTC -- a chance to poke hilariously absurdist fun at snooty high-society trend-chasers, while Modeselektor warp and tweak his vocals just as mercilessly); the fluttery, floating Thom Yorke feature "Shipwreck" (offering enough warmly woozy, stuttered somnolence to pass for a King of Limbs castoff); and the nutty, glitched-out darkwave bass throb of "Evil Twin," bolstered by Otto Von Schirach's leering house-style pronouncements. While the diversity of this sequence might suggest that these cuts derive most of their meat and personality from their respective guest vocalists, the truth is that Modeselektor's colorful, chameleonic, and detail-oriented productions are just as crucial to their improbably wide-ranging effectiveness. That said, Monkeytown is definitely at its least distinctive when Bronsert and Szary are left to their own devices: "German Clap"'s popcorn lurch and "Grillwalker"'s crispy squelch-hop, while flavorful enough, amount to little more than rote palate-cleansers. Meanwhile, fans of past albums' manic, party-ready energy may be dismayed to find that, even counting the nodding, plushly soulful tech-funk of "Berlin" at the midpoint, there's nothing overtly danceable in the album's back half, even though it does feature some of the finest moments here: a second, more fully formed (and fragment-flecked) Yorke collaboration, "This," and the even lovelier "Green Light Go," which blends whirring, wordless vocals and tastefully busy live drumming with an earnest, melodic pop core (courtesy of post-rockers PVT). The very notion of "maturity" might seem like anathema to Modeselektor, but these two tunes, in particular, suggest that the M-word might not be such a dire prospect after all (not that they're quite there yet). And while nobody expects cohesiveness from these guys, Monkeytown is at least commendably concise -- their leanest and tightest offering yet.
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AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman
feat: Thom Yorke
feat: Thom Yorke