MSTRKRFT: Operator

With the continually progressive and impressive places electronic music and its satellite genres are going, Operator is a regression to the uninspiring basics.
Last Gang

operator (n.): a person who uses and controls something (such as a machine…)

Well, you can’t knock MSTRKRFT for picking a title that doesn’t fit. On their first album in seven years, and released nearly ten years to the day after their debut The Looks, MSTRKRFT comes off as little more than machine operators, button-pushers for whom there’s no discernible difference between creating noise and creating sound. With the continually progressive and impressive places electronic music and its satellite genres are going, Operator is a regression to the uninspiring basics.

An aim of electronic music is to forge the gap between the definitively human and the definitively inhuman. To bring out sounds that no one can create, that we need machines to produce. Euphoria felt while listening to the human voice is quite easy to evoke — any rendition of a song one enjoys by even a half-decent singer stirs the emotions and is a worthwhile experience. But to do something similar with the removal of the human element is a challenge that few are able to master. Further, when it is mastered, it’s disproportionate, thanks to extraordinarily dark compositions.

Just look at the best electronic releases of the year: Roly Porter’s Third Law, Brood Ma’s Daze, Tim Hecker’s Love Streams, and Arca’s Entranas; all of these are extraordinarily challenging pieces, looking towards the cold expanses of space or the depths of the human condition for inspiration. Only the Range’s Potential can be said to have an optimistic streak, but even its vocal samples contained their fair share of strife. Regardless of their place on the emotional spectrum, unlike Operator, they at least have emotion.

Operator opens with drums that sound as if from the most basic kits (name your music generating software of choice). “Wrong Glass Sir” is little more complex from there, looking to rely on a pulsating hi-hat for two-minutes before switching up into a synth groove that one can assume is meant to switch up the flow on the dance floor. But this brings us to an existential question: do you listen to music to dance or do you dance to listen to music? Because if you do the latter, there’s little discernment in what is played in the background; dancing will go on and respond to whatever is played. If you’re of the school who cares about what exactly is soundtracking your good times, Operator will not make the cut.

Whenever vocals do show up on the album, they’re treated in a manner like they’re part of a Soundcloud remix: distorted and played with to the point of unrecognizability. This, in the right hands, is a transformative act, but here, the vocals lay above the production as if splattered like paint. The most effective use of vocals comes on one of the album’s middle tracks, “Playing With Itself”. The vocals swirl around industrial synths and add a rare humanizing element to the otherwise distant production. Easily the most egregious usage of vocals comes on “Party Line”, where a voice intones “I treat you bad… for your own good.” Ugh. These inane koans continue throughout the entirety of the track, and the simplistic synths do little to warrant a second, or even completing a first, listen.

Ultimately, Operator tops MSTRKRFT’s previous release, Fist of God in one way: it’s not a pastiche of whomever-they-can-get artists à la the also-released-in-2009 The Spirit of Apollo by N.A.S.A. Though even this doesn’t save the album from its greatest flaw: the assumption that people will dance to anything. But when you actively tune in to Operator, it becomes a disappointment.

RATING 2 / 10
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