I think it was the sudden proliferation of musical genres that ended in "?core" that led to my sudden mental retreat from classifying new artists and music by genre. If the system of taxonomy was going to get so discriminating as to only have ten bands per subgroup, I was pretty sure I didn't want to memorize all those categories. But one that stuck with me was the term IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music.
Popular dance music had, especially in the '90s, fallen into a mind-numbingly repetitive, made-by-a-machine sound that lacked much in the way of innovation, so it only made sense that the term would arise for a new generation of dance music makers like Aphex Twin and Future Sound of London, who used technology to augment their creativy, not replace it. Modeselektor is a descendant of this generation of intelligent beat-makers, who ground their glitch in rhythms from ragga to breakbeat to polka (yup) on Happy Birthday! (Bpitch Control, 2007).
Happy Birthday! is a moody sort of bastard, starting you off in the bowels of the UK dancehall club scene, then taking you to France for a little glitched out techno hip hop courtesy of a collaboration with rapper TTC, followed by the title song "Happy Birthday," which brings a flighty carnival atmosphere to your polka party. The rest of the staggering 17 songs on the album take you pretty much all over the map in a whirlwind tour of every genre spawned by electronic music in the last ten years.
"Let Your Love Grow" is one of the standouts on the album, showcasing Paul St. Hilaire's warm and soaring vocals and evoking Massive Attack's stunning collaboration with Horace Andy on "Angel." But the very next song, "B.M.I." reverts to a jerky beat factory designed to make glitch-hounds strike up their interpretive dance movements. Some of Modeselektor's other collaborations are just as welcome, including Thom Yorke on "The White Flash," which could easily have turned up on The Eraser, his solo release.
There are a few uneven points on Happy Birthday! like the transition from "The First Rebirth," aptly described by my boyfriend as a concerto for dot matrix printers, to "The Dark Side of the Frog/Sun," which brings in a gangster rap over a rather dull beatscape. But these are far outweighed by the album's audacious exploration of genres and driving energy from track to track.
Modeselektor just came through San Francisco this month and is on to the rest of the world for the foreseeable future, but for now, you can watch the video for single "Blackbox" from Happy Birthday!.