[3 June 2007]
To read Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are is to be transported, if only briefly, to a magical world filled with both wonder and dread. With a simple story and fanciful illustrations, the book has a special ability to captivate and engage the imaginations of both children and adults. Four of the adults whom the book has captivated are the members of the Dutch electronic group C-Mon & Kypski. The group pays homage to Sendak’s tale with the title of their newest release, Where the Wild Things Are, a restless album that is surprisingly upbeat and unfortunately inconsistent.
Where the Wild Things Are is the third release from C-Mon & Kypski. Those who know the group’s work will be familiar with the turntablism that pokes its head into a few of the tracks on the latest disc. While retaining some signature elements, Wild Things finds the group drawing on a wider range of influences to create an album that is both looser and more light-hearted than its predecessors. Strangely, for all the disc’s experimentalist ambitions and globetrotting musical tendencies, some songs on Wild Things come off as straightforward and flat.
Though Wild Things ultimately goes astray, the journey to its end has several worthwhile stops for listeners. The first and best of these is the album’s second track, “Bumpy Road”. The song starts out with drums and a bouncing fuzzy bass part, and it soon moves into a verse dominated by vocal harmonies that would sound at home on a Super Furry Animals record. Little changes in the supporting instrumental arrangement hold the listener’s interest. Spacy guitar licks float against the drums in the first verse, simple piano chords move in towards the middle of the song, and during the entire track, little turntable flourishes recall the traditional C-Mon & Kypski sound.
Unfortunately, the brilliance of “Bumpy Road” outshines the rest of the album. The music loses steam halfway through the third track, “Circus C-Mon & Kypski”, a mashup of tango and klezmer that is more impressive in its conception than its execution. The fourth track continues the album’s downward trend with “Make My Day”, which starts with a groovy organ and a head-bobbing beat but falters with the ridiculous chorus lyrics, “Oh, what a beautiful day/ I want to go outside and play”.
The rest of the album is hit-or-miss. Some tracks, such as the jazzy “Spirits High”, featuring New Cool Collective saxophonist Benjamin Herman, and the intricate, driving “Attention” pack a powerful musical punch. Other songs, like “Eyes on the Road”, will have listeners reaching for the skip button on their CD players. The general rule on the album is that the instrumental tracks are better than the songs with singing. C-Mon & Kypski’s real strengths are craftsmanship and attention to detail. On instrumental tracks, the group’s meticulous arrangements and intricate textures shine. On vocal tracks, the weak lyrics distract listeners from the underlying instruments.
The discrepancy between the vocal and instrumental tracks ultimately makes Where the Wild Things Are a disappointing album. The members of C-Mon & Kypski are obviously capable and adventurous. Perhaps one day they will also find a collective maturity to match their production chops and ambitions and create the masterful album they seem to be capable of making. For now, they’ve made a CD with one great track, several good ones, and a few duds. Electronic superfans might find Where the Wild Things Are to be a worthy investment. Everyone else should pick and choose from iTunes.