CSS: Donkey

While the album is focused in its intentions but scattered in its creation, CSS put a lot of effort into keeping their role fresh -- even as they sometimes hang by a thread.



Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2008-07-22
UK Release Date: 2008-07-21

CSS and the impressive reputation that they've garnered over the past couple of years can easily be attributed to their brash predilection towards genre-fusing dance numbers, cleverly ridiculous lyrical choices, a personality that is as genuine as it is juvenile, and an honest-to-goodness, balls-to-the-wall live show. It is a deceptively simple dynamic that is incredibly precious to the group's staying power. While any band with a significant amount of hype should allow themselves some wiggle room on their much dreaded "sophomore" effort, balance between growth and recognition must always be considered. With Donkey, CSS walk this line, landing on the somewhat nuanced and sometimes dubiously progressive side of maturity -- if just barely.

It's not that Donkey is too refined or too immature -- in fact, it's as silly as Cansei de Ser Sexy probably by about half. No, the issue with Donkey is that it finds CSS building upon their established personality with the wrong kinds of elements. Granted, it is a well balanced waltz of sorts, but one has to question why this particular twirl needed to be taken in the first place.

One of the many charms of the band's self titled debut was the way that it showed them completely embracing the bratty nature of their identity without slipping into some snotty, all too clever parody. It was goofy, complex, and flippant all at once making it surprisingly exhilarating. Donkey possesses similar strengths, but CSS have made a decidedly more refined attempt at finding the "art" in their petulance. While it doesn't erase the good natured buffoonery that make CSS so charming, it's a curious development nonetheless.

Donkey portrays CSS as both a band that is completely self-aware and one that is utterly aloof. It sounds remarkably interesting on paper, but Donkey remains slightly underwhelming in delivery. It not only lacks the flow of CSS's debut, but also (shockingly) the variety. Adhering far more to traditional rock rules more often than not, Donkey's straight rock inclinations give the album drive, sure, but not much in the way of spirit. In comparison to most rock bands, this is as crazy as it gets; in comparison to CSS in the days of old, however, there are moments when it's more like a black tie affair.

It's not as if CSS have lost their identity, though. Donkey has myriad moments of digital decadence and synthesized debauchery; it's just that the juxtaposition of those moments with their more straight-faced counterparts makes for an odd meeting. While there is nothing wrong, per se, with lead singer Lovefoxxx singing about domestic abuse on lead single “Rat is Dead (Rage)”, it is admittedly a far cry from music being her “hot hot sex.” The album's tight melodies and harmonized fits of rage bring the sonic scope of the album into perspective, though, and a balance is reached between the complexity of CSS's intentions and the simplicity of their delivery.

“We didn't come into this world to walk around / We came to take you out!” says Lovefoxxx on album opener "Jäger Yoga". Right off the bat Donkey is meant to be a call to arms of sorts; a statement that CSS is not content to be the silly little band you can dance to, but a force to be reckoned with...that you can dance to. They are not entirely successful in conveying this message -- unless you count creating an unintentionally weird album with half-developed ideas set to Disco-punk -- but there is something damn compelling about Donkey (as well as CSS as a whole) that makes it all so endearing, if not completely forgivable.

While the album is focused in its intentions but scattered in its creation, CSS put a lot of effort into keeping their role fresh -- even as they sometimes hang by a thread. Donkey should probably go a long way in legitimizing CSS as a real presence in the rock world, while still lightly clinging to their reggae/funk/punk roots. Long time fans may feel the slight pangs of longing for their less distilled ventures into sonic schizophrenia, but Donkey is a marginally strong, albeit strange, gut check for a band that has a tendency to shoot from the hip and aim for the kill.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.