KMFDM .:. Tohuvabohu

Sunday, February 1, 2009 |

When someone talks about German industrial goth-dance bands, KMFDM will inevitably come up—whether because of talent, iconoclasm, or simply because of their ubiquity—who the hell else has made this much music for this long?—no one could say. Almost 25 years since their first album came out, Tohuvabohu really doesn’t sound that different. In fact, the most significant departure is the title, which abandons KMFDM’s standard five-letter moniker for the mysterious-sounding but grammatically-incorrect Hebrew expression for the creation of the universe.

Musically, however, the band’s current lineup strikes a tenuous balance between their characteristic industrial, as well as elements of funk, R & B, and metal. Whether it’s that half-growl, half-Elvis sneer in Sascha Konietzko’s deep, robotic vocals, or the weirdly sexy addition of diva-of-the-moment Lucia Cifarelli, the songs are mostly interchangeable but uniformly tight, lacking any standout single or career-making track, but that’s okay, mostly; they’ve made their contribution to greatness. Tohuvabohu succeeds in being solidly good, and maybe that's just as important.

Maritime plays a pleasant, airy batch of intellectually-minded pop songs on Heresy and the Hotel Choir, their third full-length. I mean, how many other bands’ press releases would note that their former bassist left to pursue a career teaching high school English?

Not to worry. Despite the loss of that bassist — former Dismemberment Plan bassist and general mischief maker Eric Axelson — singer/guitarists Davey and Dan from the Promise Ring, along with a new rhythm section, put forth all their characteristic charm, wit, and good-natured pop-tinged rawk on Heresy.

The album’s opener, “Guns of Navarone,” with its feel-good chorus “Sticks and stones may break my skin/but...” named after the Alistair MacLean novel, drops us instantly in and out of the emotional tumult, half shake-your-ass dancey and half first-day-of-a-crush jubilant, that give you the emotional surge that the Promise Ring was so expert at delivering.

The rest of the album follows suit, with songs like the low-end jam of “For Science Fiction” and the surprisingly beautiful drone and static of “First Night on Earth” rounding out a bill of songs that capture the emotional range of getting older, of walking down a busy late-night street, and everything that comes between. It won’t change your life, but it’ll make you feel good about it.

Dalek, the hip hop duo, or the instrumental group with a vocalist, or the industrial group—or whatever you want to call them—comes alive and seems to almost actively duck the “rarities” moniker that’s attached to Deadverse Massive. It’s a sprawling collection of songs that is hip hop at its core, but shrouded in shadowy vocals, layered and echoed, together with grinding music that sometimes sidesteps the beat but never loses it. This is Massive Attack before they became a party band: slow, loud hip hop that specializes in ambient noises that shouldn’t work but do. Their beats are made of guitars and synths alongside crashes, wheezes, frequently disconcerting noises that sound like a 1950s computer going crazy and rampaging Manhattan—and yet, the Dälek duo never let up sounding slow, sultry and darkly, fiercely sexual. Reminiscent of Dan the Automator, but only in a good way—like, in their New Jersey basement, they stumbled upon the first Dr. Octagon album, decided that it contained the secrets of the universe, and retold it in their own image. And they keep on telling.

If you’ve heard “Let It Go,” the now-ubiquitous single featuring Missy Elliott, Li’l Kim, and that damn “Damn, that’s hot” chorus, feel free to use that song as the review for this CD.

If you’re one of the five people who haven’t, OK, pull up a chair, grab a cup of joe…are you with me? Cool. Keyshia Cole is one of the most powerful voices in contemporary hip hop/r&b/“urban” music, which is another way of saying black people who sing and aren’t Peabo Bryson. This record is kind of the opposite of a gangsta album—it’s more a gangsta widow album. “Let It Go” is a song that’s addressed to another woman, letting her know that her man’s been coming on to Keyshia, and he isn’t lovin’ her right...and she needs to get rid of him.

These are super-cheesy songs that tear straight to the heart of relationships. Songs that call people out on things that people do, and don’t hold back. “Didn’t I Tell You” retreads the thematic backdrop of “Let It Go,” and “Fallin’ Out” is, well, exactly what you think. The brilliant Anthony Hamilton shines on “Losing You,” and Diddy even shows up for good measure. At this point, his appearance does just as much for his image as it does for Keyshia’s, maybe even more. As she lets us know straight from “Let It Go”: she don’t need nobody.

Siouxsie Sioux — previously of the Banshees, the Monsters, and the comic books Sandman and Death — has been through more iterations than I can accurately describe. From adorning my bedroom wall to mixing into both my teenage too-goth-to-handle fantasies, as well as those other teenage fantasies, to call her an icon is an understatement. She's a force of nature.
In the '80s, she seduced both the popular kids and the kids who wouldn't be caught dead listening to anything resembling popular. Her solo debut, Mantaray, is equal factions Madonna electropop, KMFDM bass-synth-brass bombast, and Sarah Vaughan swagger. "I feel a force I've never felt before/I don't want to fight it anymore" she sings. If you believe Pitchfork, she's talking about the breakup of her marriage and her bi-curious tendencies; or you can see it as a new exploration of her inner pop diva stepping out, taking over, and having creepy and beautiful Björk-like spiders and butterflies crawling all over her, as they are in the cover, and being awash in the glorious—and unapologetically catchy—songs on this album.