By: Greg Gargiulo
Electronic pioneers The Crystal Method are back at it again. One of the primary forces at the forefront of the breakbeat/house movement since its slow rise to prominence starting in the early '90s, the team of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan have steadily kept their proverbial ball rolling over the years, and they've managed to do so without doubling back over ground already covered. Divided By Night (released May 12 on Tiny e Records), though lacking and failing in a few departments, proves the duo still has their knack for concocting some rather nasty beats and interspersing them with all sorts of trippy hooks, entrancing samples and wild effects to create a mind invasion with just enough of that sonic boom, an explosive infiltration distinctive to the Method, that the scattered holes and weak spots can be overlooked and covered up by the high points.
For Divided, their fourth studio album and first in more than five years, the tandem again scouted out a crew of guest vocalists with intentions of lending support and adding depth, just as they did on predecessor Legion of Boom. It is in assessing these bold vocal assignments - some of which add a layer of sweetness to what's already delightful, and others which turn semi-sweet numbers truly sour - that the real making and breaking process goes down. Matisyahu, who has recently been popping his head up in unlikely pairings with acts like STS9 and the Biscuits, appears on "Drown in the Now," and it works. There's an overwhelming sense of chaos and confusion throughout Divided, particularly on "Drown," and his hollowed-out yowls and repeated phrasings of surrender (or is it acceptance?) pair up with and play off each other nicely. "Sine Language," on the crusty, overturned bottom side of things, starts with a solid enough musical base that appears to have some real potential for the first minute until the vocals come through. LMFAO, the latest newcomers in a relentless emergence of processed party hip-pop duos, then proceeds to take that sound foundation and sully it until it's spoiled with their trite blend of overused rhymes and lame material, ruining fully what could have been a hypnotic, inviting jam. "Come Back Clean" shares a similar odor of stinky cheese, though its musical assistance isn't nearly as strong to begin with.
Then there are pieces like "Black Rainbows" and "Falling Hard" which fall into another separate category. "Rainbows" finds Stefanie King Warfield offering a soothing display of lofty, echoing vocals that aerate its glitchy, atmospheric core, while "Falling" showcases the best vocals on the disc by far from Meiko, who reminds one a great deal of some of those late '90s female pop stars. Both are catchy and bright, yet neither sounds as if it would ever in a lifetime come from the same two dudes who once sampled the taunt, "Yo motherfucker you were the man a minute ago," into a grating, rough-and-tumble barrage a few years back ("Tough Guy on '01's Tweekend). Sure, change/evolution is fundamental/necessary, but from apparently talking shit and getting ready to throw down to serenading, "Heaven help me, I think I'm in love, I'm all in love with you"?
So what is Divided By Night's saving grace, then, with all these vocal-related flaws? There's plenty, and as you might expect, it comes in the form of the instrumental tracks and in the musical portions of select lyrical cuts. "Smile?" goes trance with some sprinkles of dubstep, taking a mechanical drumbeat to an creepy set of key riffs, and it rises and falls to the breaks and builds of the music alone. Volatile opener "Divided By Night" only samples the voice of a robot and hearkens back to the Method's earlier days with an entire panel of crazy alarms sounding from all directions and an acceleration of pace from the instant the first note pops. "Dirty Thirty," which plays off a steady central guitar riff, epitomizes a juxtaposition of gloom and lightness felt all over the LP, an attempt to find that middle ground between the forces that uplift you and those that try to drag you down.
Pushing voices in electronic music, particularly for a band that prospered for so long without them, is risky business. Occasionally it shocks in its success, but most times plummets. Nix most of the vocals and Divided By Night is a super strong studio effort from the Method, rife with body-rockin' beats, sick drops and an assortment of glitchy, tweakable madness. With them, the intrigue and the pull is all still there, just don't keep your finger too far from the fast-forward button while listening.
JamBase | Rhythmic
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