Clash (magazine) - "MSTRKRFT themselves have quit trying to mask anything about their sound or approach, electing instead to deliver the turbo-aggressive noise record they've always threatened to make."
Audio Mixer: MSTRKRFT.
Recording information: God City Studios (08/2013-09/2015).
Photographer: Peter Andrew Lusztyk.
MSTRKRFT's third outing is a U-turn to back to their 2006 debut, The Looks. On Operator, the Canadian duo of Jesse F. Keeler and Alex "Al-P" Puodziukas ditch the booming Justice-lite of their sophomore effort, Fist of God, and offer their die-hard fans a serving of straightforward electro-house that plays more like a solid DJ set than a collection of singles with featured guests. Whereas The Looks had an early Daft Punk feel, Operator finds MSTRKRFT in a darker, more claustrophobic setting, much like Human After All. It's their most difficult listen to date, droning with hypnotic repetition and no outright bangers. Much of the fun is also gone -- something that defined Fist of God, for better or worse -- and listeners are ushered from the EDM arena and into the shadowy back room for much of this affair. Operator hits hard and doesn't relent, kicking off with "Wrong Glass Sir," an anxiety-drenched trance for raving with dilated pupils. That type of early-'90s pre-electronica provides much of the inspiration, channeling the Chemical Brothers or Prodigy circa 1994 on tracks like "Little Red Hen" and "Playing with Itself." The harsh edge of Keeler's other group, Death from Above 1979, cuts through it all, adding a feral electro-punk vibe to Operator. "Priceless" is a prime example: clanging to life like an electroclash alarm call, it pulses to life on a fat beat before Sonny K shouts his way through with reckless punk abandon, like a particularly aggressive remix from the Knife. The throbbing "Party Line" features another guest, Ian Svenonius from Nation of Ulysses, on reverbed vocals. With such markedly different vocals than Fist of God, a lot of the propulsive momentum vanishes. For some less abrasive numbers, one highlight is "Runaway," which comes closest to MSTRKRFT's typical Justice/Daft Punk hero worship. "Morning of the Hunt" is another example, combining monstrous sirens with spaced-out digital Tron synths. Without clear-cut standouts, Operator is really a full-album listening experience (take the one-two punch of "Death in the Gulf Stream" and "World Peace" for a deeper descent into house hypnosis). This may hinder casual fans -- there's no "Bounce" or "Heartbreaker" here -- but diehards and lovers of more challenging electronic music will appreciate the chaotic journey of Operator. ~ Neil Z. Yeung