Alter Ego, the German duo of Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke, have been producing electronic music for more than a decade, but they didn't make a popular impact until 2004 with the release of club anthem "Rocker." The track's name, as well as the heavy-metal guitars sublimated in its squealing portamento synths, placed the duo in that fertile (but not yet overcultivated) crescent between rock and techno. If Justice are the Christians, then Alter Ego are the Sumerians: Without "Rocker" there would be no "Waters of Nazareth."
In the three years since "Rocker" and the full-length that contained it, the formidable Transphormer, Alter Ego's brand of aggressive drum machinery and growling synths has ushered in a flood of like-minded producers, many clustered around the Ed Banger and Kitsuné labels. So where does that leave Flügel and Wuttke?
Judging by their new album, Alter Ego aren't feeling inundated; rather, they're floating along on the high tide with the same crushing sound and acidic humor as always.
The 74-minute, 11-track Why Not?! is front-loaded with the ridiculously fun title track, a pitch-sliding techno banger tied to an unmistakable Bavarian beer hall oom-pah, and the lush Tubeway Army tribute of "Gary." These are more jovial songs than anything from Transphormer, and they set a lighter mood for the new album. The drunk swerving of "Fuckingham Palace" and the synthetically chuckling "Jolly Joker" only heighten that mood.
The album loses some steam heading into the halfway point with the acid workout of "Queen Anne's Revenge," and a problem starts to reveal itself: Alter Ego, for all their good humor, make some seriously punishing techno. It might work best in smaller doses.;/p>
With the exception of the squawking "Chicken Shag" and the air horns and artificial fog of "Pleasure Island," the album's second half works into a less grueling but still rewarding groove. You just might want to give yourself a break before flipping the record over. ERIC GRANDY
Discovered: A Collection of Daft Funk Samples
There's a simple, reliable metric for measuring collections of songs that have been sampled by other people: Would you rather hear the original song, or the song that sampled it? In the case of Discovered, which brings together a dozen tracks that are mostly best known for having provided raw source material for Daft Punk's three studio albums (as well as "Music Sounds Better with You," the monster single Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter made as Stardust in 1998, which samples this collection's "Fate," by Chaka Khan), the answer is usually the same: Bring on the robots.
That isn't to say that Discovered is devoid of pleasure, especially if you're in need of an overview of late-'70s/early-'80s second-tier disco and R&B. Occasionally, it's better than that: Cerrone's "Supernature" (utilized for "Verdis Quo") is classic disco camp at its most glossy-epic; George Duke's wispy "I Love You More" ("Digital Love") is gawkily charming; and Breakwater's "Release the Beast," while clunky, still outclasses its Daft progeny, "Robot Rock."
But listening to Discovered also makes you realize that Daft Punk are an even better production team than you might have realized. Better listeners, anyway: Sure, they swiped huge, obviously recognizable chunks of Little Anthony & the Imperials' "Can You Imagine" and Edwin Birdsong's "Cola Bottle Baby" for "Crescendolls" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," respectively, but they also bolstered, tweaked, and manipulated them to sing in ways that the originals simply don't. That's the secret of sampling: transforming what you started with until you make it your own. It's hard to believe most of the tracks on Discovered would be well remembered, even by rare-disco fiends, if Daft Punk hadn't done just that. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
"Awesome" are a great band to book for your literary events, book readings, fundraisers, what have you. They'll write a song just for the occasion, incorporating an author's text, or your nonprofit organization's mission statement. The seven-piece band—which includes traditional rock instruments as well as banjo, brass, strings, piano, glockenspiel, and theremin—are talented enough to pull this sort of thing off with considerable charm. Plus they'll dress up for the occasion. They're also up for scoring the odd bit of musical theater, and they have the distinction of getting to Delaware before Sufjan Stevens.
It's a shame, then, that their new album, Beehive Sessions, finds "Awesome" without anything as solid as an author or a state to celebrate. Without the context of an occasion, their riffs on communication, cellular biology, and the human hive make for an uneven listen. The musicianship is flawless throughout, but the songwriting doesn't always keep up. For every satisfying, freestanding pop piece ("Shape Song," "Sherrie," "Memory Leak," "Anthem") there's a song that feels like it's missing its accompanying stage show ("Ones & Zeroes," "Telephone," "Cell Song"). "Awesome" are a sharp band, but they remain musical theater first, pop music second. ERIC GRANDY
The best thing Operation Ivy ever did for us was break up.
For almost 15 years now, Operation Ivy, the posthumous 30-track record released on Lookout! Records almost two years after the band called it quits, has survived as an authentic snapshot of the much-romanticized late-'80s to early-'90s Bay Area music scene where bands like Green Day, Crimpshrine, and Jawbreaker thrived.
Though Op Ivy's founding members moved on to other projects—Tim "Lint" Armstrong and Matt Freeman found commercial success in Rancid while Jesse Michaels teamed up with ex-members of Squirtgun and Screeching Weasel to form the unmemorable Common Rider—their music remains untainted by age or later compromises and mistakes. This month Hellcat Records will rerelease a remastered version of the record that is one of the best-selling in Lookout!'s history.
Hearing it now, far removed from the Bay Area scene by both miles and years, you can still feel the fervor inside a 19-year-old Michaels as he sings to a pack of sweaty outcasts from the stage at 924 Gilman. He fearlessly questions authority and calls for social justice, while his bandmates take cues from the Clash and Madness, bridging the gap between ska and punk rock. They were and will always be a vital punk band with brains, big hearts, and an endearing naiveté. MEGAN SELING
We Are the Pipettes
It's pointless to review a box of puppies. What do you look for to criticize? Even their flaws are adorable. The Pipettes debut is a box of puppies.
The backstory: The Pipettes are a trio of conventionally attractive girls from Brighton, England. There's a blond vixen, a brunette librarian, and a dark-haired girl next door. Their LBJ-era girl-group pop is a studiously recycled version of the golden oldies station your parents used to listen to when they picked you up from school: "Be My Baby" and "He's So Fine" and "Leader of the Pack." If you have ears and you're not between the ages of 14 and 17, it is impossible to not like the source material. Your affection for the Pipettes, however, will come down to politics.
There are social statements to be made here (life during wartime inspires retreat into the gilded past, there's nothing new under the sun, manufactured art is a safe investment, etc.), but they're not worth belaboring. Deep analysis is not part of the Pipettes aesthetic. Like all good pop, the Pipettes are best appreciated at face value. There's nothing by way of sonic updates; the backing band, called the Cassette, pilfers just about every girl group trope in Phil Spector's playbook—the big drums, the trebly reverbed guitar twang, the horn and string flourishes, the stupid/brilliant songwriting.
The fact is, this stuff is as catchy and solid as the source material; it's just not as necessary. Whereas '60s pop was aimed at teenagers, the Pipettes are aimed at twentysomething hipsters. In theory, they're wrapped in layers of irony and distance, but it's possible that the giddy, hand-jive jubilance of would-be hits "Pull Shapes" and "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me" strips those layers away. You'd think there's 21st-century bite in songs with titles like "Sex" and "One Night Stand," but you'd be wrong. There's nothing but adorable perkiness here. A box of puppies, I tell you. JONATHAN ZWICKEL
The Pipettes play Thurs Nov 1 at the Crocodile.