Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers

[Hotflush Recordings]

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Journeying through Brooklyn from southern Bed-Stuy to the oil-spill end of Greenpoint, the B48 bus shuttles me often from my apartment in Clinton Hill to my best dude-friends’ flat off Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. The richness of the scenery makes up for whatever obvious beauty this route lacks. Ancient brownstones give way to mid-century housing projects. It skims the jammed BQE briefly before penetrating South Williamsburg, where hipsters and Hasidim squabble over the former’s existential right to bike lanes, and Satmar kids chase each other up fortress-like blocks and whisper on stoops. I pass car repair shops with signs mostly in Spanish, un-wrenched fire hydrants serving alternately as ad-hoc car washes and water parks, failed luxury condo schemes dressed in plywood and street art and mere vandalism. By the time I pull the cord to request my stop, I’ve cut about as jarring and complicated and weirdly beautiful a slice of urban life as one’s likely to find anywhere.

I mention the B48 because without it, I’m not sure I would have fully understood Mount Kimbie. I’d found the duo’s two Hotflush EPs oddly underwhelming for the praise practically everyone else heaped upon them, and of the five remixes that appeared this spring, only Instra:mental’s take on “At Least” had really held my attention. Even on the ass-graced cover for Crooks & Lovers, their debut full-length, it didn’t look like Kai Campos and Dominic Maker were putting their best foot forward, exactly. I do a lot of my music-listening on earbuds while in transit — hardly ideal, but New York commutes are long, days here marvels of time management — and I’ve gotten pretty used to having my head on the dance floor while my body waits in a crumbling G-train station. But as Crooks & Lovers began soundtracking my trips up to Williamsburg, first as a professional obligation but soon as a pleasure, everything about these guys started falling into place.

Crooks & Lovers isn’t pitched at 4 a.m. bassbins; it’s the sound of watching a complicated world pass by your bus window on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, mediated by a couple of creative minds not too self-serious to giggle about big butts. Like the labyrinthine neighborhoods the B48 diligently circumnavigates thrice hourly, it follows its own messy logic. The tracks are generally short, existing for maybe a block or two before dead-ending or merging into another. The same could be said for the album itself, which clocks in at a scant 35 minutes. But after a listen or two, they cease to feel unfinished, instead joining the broader fabric of the neighborhood. Tracks like “Before I Move Off” and “Field” cram as many ideas and colors into three or four minutes as Hotflush honcho Scuba might into six or seven, yet you hardly feel them rushing from point A to point B. Mount Kimbie don’t concern themselves much with genres or tempos: they sound as content to trudge along well below house tempos (“Adriatic,” “Ode to Bear”) as they do in dubstep territory (“Would Know”). This casualness also extends to their sound design, probably a big part of my early hesitancy about these guys. In the context of an album with little interest in dance floor movement, Mount Kimbie’s preference for tiny sounds — spindly drum programming, steely guitars straight off a Books album, cheap digital reverb (a major feature of “Before I Move Off”) — makes them feel that much more tangible. If you’re going to make music in your dingy apartment, Crooks & Lovers seems to be saying, why not make music for other kids living in dingy little apartments?

This isn’t to say that this music isn’t deliberately and elegantly composed, or that it couldn’t make one hell of a smash. In the wake of this album, the buzz surrounding Mount Kimbie has become something of a din, even in circles Hotflush’s mystique might usually be lost on. It just doesn’t sound like it’s bending over backwards to impress us. Crooks & Lovers is a quirky little electronic album from a group whose beauty sneaks up on you, and whose poetry maybe isn’t readily apparent on your first bus ride. Like the bowels of Brooklyn, it might never make perfect sense, but that never stops you from looking on intently and curiously from your window seat.

lauren  on August 10, 2010 at 11:26 AM

this is just beautiful.

Blaktony  on August 11, 2010 at 2:33 AM

I love their creativity & gut; this is one of my favs (makes U listen,HUH?).

Per Bojsen-Moller  on August 11, 2010 at 6:33 AM

A modern classic

petepete  on August 17, 2010 at 6:34 AM

i saw them play live on friday and they were fantastic. definitely more of a concert than a dancefloor set. great review btw.

Mr. Fancey  on October 20, 2010 at 4:09 PM

Listened through “Crooks & Lovers” five times. It was still underwhelming and the songs felt unfinished on my last listen, so I’ve tabled it for the year. I dunno. I will agree that what’s there is well crafted, but not a single track begs for me to hear it again. I don’t expect bangers from everyone, but the mishmash of styles Mount Kimbie attempts never coheres into anything vital to me.

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