Celebration - The Modern Tribe Album Review
The Modern Tribe
The little bits I'd read about Celebration regularly namechecked Nick Cave and The Birthday Party, so it was something of a surprise to hear 'Evergreen' coming out of the speakers like Siouxsie Sioux set adrift on a sea of organs (of the keyboard variety, obviously) and pianos. The next thing I noticed was the drumming, which is busy, fluid and rather good. It's not overly in your face, either, although it gives the impression of being the work of a man who could go nuts at the drop of a hat. This is an impression that remains through the whole record.
'Pressure' still sounds Siouxsie Sioux in playful mood, and I have the sneaky feeling there might be some Moog bass pedals in action here. The keyboards are warm, but the drums are jumpy. As the track unfolds I'm starting to recognise that singer Katrina Ford is no mere Sioux clone. She's got a distinctive voice and a decent range. There's some neat backwards-sounding noises as well, and some of the keyboard flourishes sound like a drunk fairground at Hallowe'en. I'm beginning to rather like this.
'Heartbreak' is a very simple chord progression played on an organ that sounds slightly distorted, with some neat piano over the top. I could imagine Moby sampling it - if it was a minor 60s hit. There's a little bit of backing vocals that sound like Sparks, too, and some stabbing saxophones that sit nicely underneath the soaring vocal. Again, the drums are marvellous - busy but understated. The whole feel is a little dated, but that's part of its charm. These aren't new sounds by any stretch of the imagination, but they're well arranged. 'Pony' has a fine, fluid bassline and breathy vocals that once again recall Sparks. An organ dervishes away in the background while the drums rumble and flicker like thunder and lightning. It's the soundtrack to some mad dance that ends in a blood-letting.
'Fly The Fly' is maybe the standout track. A chattery guitar, a stop-start biff-pang-pow rhythm, a vocal that sounds like it's delivered by someone standing twenty feet tall (and featuring a genuine startling keening wail), it rattles along and around with the giddying feel of a waltzer that's been left to run too long while its operator cackles like a maniac through broken teeth. Just when you think it's going to stop, off it goes again. Sinewy, sensual, and just a little bit scary, it sounds bloody marvellous at high volume. And it doesn't so much finish as hit a wall and stop dead. Lovely. Can I have another go?
'Tame The Savage' begins with an organ set to 'stun', playing a blissed-out, screwed up riff, while distorted and guitar and vocals have a fight over some stabbing bass and Classic Rock (TM) drums. It's all a bit deranged, in a quite lovely way. Euphoria has never sounded so dented, so scuffed. The backing vocals only add to the chaos, chanting away like the choir in some demented church. 'Hands Off My Gold' has an almost African feel percussion-wise, and the vocals and keyboards do some weird call-and-response before some saxophones come in doing the kind of backing that wouldn't sound out of place on a Teardrop Explodes record. It's only now that I realise the track is absolutely chock full of bells. Where the hell did they come from? There's so much going on here, it's difficult to keep tabs on it all. So instead I hit 'rewind' and let it all wash over me. And I can report that it was good.
'In This Land' features more effected organ, and has a kind of shuffly dance beat and a melody that sounds like St Etienne might have done if they'd had a bloodthirsty demon writing their songs. The drums get bigger as some brassy noises blare. Not for the first time, I'm thinking that this is kind of unsettling and unhinged, but there's something beguiling and rather appealing about it all, and by the time a rather dirty-sounding guitar comes in, all bent notes and reverb, it's all beginning to make sense. 'Comets' has the most up-front drumming so far, and is perhaps the most obviously 'pop' song so far in terms of melody, but by now Katrina Ford's voice and delivery are making everything sound a bit odd. Honestly, this lot could make Monkees tunes sound a bit sinister. Maybe this ability is where the Birthday Party/Nick Cave references come from. After all, Nick Cave could offer you a cup of tea and make it sound like some Faustian pact.
'Wildcats' is more stuttering pop in terms of instrumentation, but by now Katrina Ford is really going to town and there's a guitar to keep her company, and some more saxophones. And a bizarre time signature that I just can't quite fathom. The effect is dizzying, intoxicating, addictive. More please. 'Our Hearts Don't Change' is almost sane by comparison. True, there's an undercurrent of menace, but there's also a sense of climax, of euphoria. The drums really kick off just on cue, as keyboards swirl around and Ford intones 'I'll be right there/I'll stand by you', over and over again. My pulse is racing and I'm beginning to twitch.
Although this record starts in a fairly low-key way, it is well worth sticking with. 'Celebration' is an apt name for this band. There is definitely something celebratory about this record. When it hits the heights, it really is rather wonderful. It's unsettling at times, complicated at others, but there's much in it to admire. (Not least the dumming. Did I mention the drumming?) At times it is genuinely euphoric, and it is never less than atmospheric. Something of a triumph, you could say. Let's hope it gets the audience it deserves.