Sach O prefers police and thieves.
This will not be your standard Mount Kimbie review – mostly because I’m not head-over-heels in love with the band and also because I don’t think their debut album Crooks & Lovers is a welcome sign of dubstep’s evolution in the face of perceived stagnation. Whereas most Internet critics have hailed Kimbie as genre-saving auteurs in the face of a faceless scene, I remain conflicted on whether or not this is a good thing in the first place. Hell, I don’t want bass music to become indie and I have absolutely no desire to see it bend towards rockist form and content: the album as the defining statement, “real” instruments, faux-bohemian wimpiness instead aggression, etc. So no matter how good these songs are, I’ll never be able to live with myself if I give this record breathless praise and it goes on to become Dubstep’s “Velvet Underground” moment: the point where a bunch of pretentious twats ruin it for everyone decent.
And make no mistake; Crooks & Lovers features all the tropes of “intelligent” electronic music. The acoustic guitar isn’t the first sound you hear on the album but it’s definitely the first recognizable one. Most tunes can best be described as “gorgeous”, the rest “subtle”. Forget “dirty basslines” or “cheesy vocals,” this is dubstep sans sweat, music for everyone who picked up Burial’s Untrue on a whim, liked what they heard but wouldn’t be caught dead in a club skanking with dreadlocked skunk smokers. If Mount Kimbie has attracted so much tastemaker praise, it’s that their music is tasteful to a fault.
On the other hand, one shouldn’t blame a cat for not barking. Taken for what it is, Crooks & Lovers is a beautiful record…and what’s wrong with a beautiful record? Hell, if these guys came up through the chillwave ranks, Douglas Martin would probably be reviewing them here and I might have never have given them a chance but the music would still sound the same…and it would still be good! Because yes, there’s a lot of good music here: chopped up guitar lines, rearranged vocals, uptempo post-garage beats, shimmering synth washes, all expertly arranged into emotional slices of machine music that scratch a small but important musical itch. This is a perfect “subway record”, 33 minutes of pleasant, textural music that sounds perfect riding around the city at sunset before heading to your girl’s place. In my mind, that’s a role of considerable but still limited importance: nothing worth handing out 5 stars over but also something I can come back to regularly over the years…I take a lot of long bus rides. In this respect, it’ll find a nice place on my shelves next to Blockhead and RJD2.
So basically, your enjoyment of Mount Kimbie will be highly dependent of where you’re coming from. As a hardcore Hip-Hop head that naturally leans towards raw, aggressive expressions of urban alienation, Crooks & Lovers lacks edge. However, for dance music fans looking for something to bump on the way to work or dubstep heads disenchanted by the darkness and synthesized bass matrix that took over the genre once it blew up, this may be the album of the year. Depending on the day, I can lean either way (I’ve got it chillin at #23 on my half-year list). Ultimately though, I find Crooks and Lovers to be absolutely…good. In an alternate Universe I’d be defending it from those who’d be calling it wack, in this one I’m tempering the praise of those who think it’s fantastic. One way or another, I will give Mount Kimbie props for expanding the framework of the space they’re working in and trying new ideas: their chosen direction may not be my favorite, but Crooks & Lovers is well constructed and often affecting in its subtle reflection of London life. Maybe I’m just too much of a knucklehead to fully appreciate it.