Baltimore trio Celebration cram a lot into any given composition, but the spotlight deservedly falls on frontwoman Katrina Ford, whose vocal soar chimes with an easy, classy dexterity. From her early days with Love Life and gothy Jacks thru Celebration’s eponymous 2005 debut and today, she keeps getting better. Ford’s chops were always attention grabbing, but this is the first time it feels like she’s reached diva-hood. She’s super on tracks like crystalline, white magic-floating “Evergreen” where a sparkly, airy backdrop’s loose enough that she can really tear into and belt out her lines. But when things are more insistent, as on hand-clapping “Pressure,” where she doubles up with Kyp Malone (who also sings on “”Hands Off My Gold”), she rides across the beat with soulful assurance.
Ford (who also adds percussion), her multi-instrumental husband Sean Antanaitis (guitar, guitorgan, organ, Wurlitzer, piano, Moog pedal bass, electronics), and drummer David Bergander happily don’t fit into the colorful box of art-school noisemakers currently giving the Baltimore area its biggest downloads and critical tongue baths. Dave Sitek-produced The Modern Tribe is less antsy than the band’s Dave Sitek-produced first full-length, less post-punk screechy. Even when they do ratchet it up and get breathless (“Pony” sets up an out-of-breath call and response cabaret jam), the organ-grinding is more refined and cast with broader, fuller strokes. Last time, really, it felt like they were stuck within some post-punk trend — here, they’re hopefully starting one.
Let’s put our blogger cards on the table: We love it all. “Heartbreak”‘s a clattering but lovely, mellow power ballad that spins around the rollerskating rink with oom-pa-pa horns and Ford’s acrobatics. It sounds just like the title suggest … so pretty. Or, hey, that languid group sing-a-long on “Tame the Savage”? A chorus of voices over distended feedback reminding us of the evil in men’s hearts. “Fly The Fly” kicks up a slick, sharp rock devil charmer. Swoony organ, dusky a.m. vocals, and shamanistic drums collide in three directions on “Our Hearts Don’t Change.” The effect is reminiscent of Björk and Antony singing over Brian Chippendale on “Dull Flame Of Desire” — chilly-cool voices, tribal-spastic underbelly. And there couldn’t have been a more fitting closer than the sweetly-melodramatic “Comets” (“we’re comets in the night”), which loops and lingers like mantra, Ford intoning “take my hand, love, and walk me into that big sunrise.” Every song feels like it could continue with that sort of sunsetting infinity.
That’s the biggest growth between The Modern Tribe and Celebration’s past work: Last time around they felt sorta like some folks connected to TV On The Radio (remember, Ford sings on “Staring At The Sun” and “Wolf Like Me“), but this time around, they’ve stepped outside of any shadows. Members of Antibalas, Dragons Of Zynth, TVOTR, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Zinner does the guitar on “Evergreen” and “Hands Off My Gold”) make guest appearances, but even with that little help from their friends, this soulful whirl marks the arrival of something bigger.
Nice artwork, too….
The Modern Tribe is out 10/9 on 4AD.