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MNDR, ‘Feed Me Diamonds’ (Ultra)

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Label: Ultra Music

Pop’s gone totally EDM, as we all know — stars from Nicki to Rihanna have been flocking to beatmakers like Calvin Harris in hopes of crafting that perfect rave, occasionally even with success. But we’re not hearing too much pop that’s rooted in a deep knowledge of electronic-music history: sugar-sweet anthems with a motherboard concealed inside. With Feed Me Diamonds, though, MNDR’s Amanda Warner and Peter Wade — synth hyper-freaks both — bring that nerdy shit to pop’s gilded table, and dish out a plate of anti-establishmentarianism as a side. It slips down easily, and the duo’s knowledge and pedigree (their debut is out on 16-year-old rave label Ultra Records, once home to the Chemical Brothers and Tiësto) also satisfies the yen of longtime dance-music lovers who might be side-eyeing all the Johnny-Come-Latelies. The title track sounds like Berlin. The city and the band.

It’s funny that amid the clamor of America’s newfound musical obsession, though, Feed Me Diamonds will be regarded as a Rihanna competitor rather than as what it is, first and foremost: a really ill techno record. It doesn’t hurt that Warner has a Technicolor voice with the sheen and mass appeal of a Koons balloon, of course, but she was also one of the first IDM artists from the United States during the early oughties, so the album’s quirks emerge from her nerdier proclivities: the Kraftwerkian oscillation of a synth (“#1 in Heaven”), or the super-subtle charge of a pitch-shift (“Sparrow”). Yet as it nimbly shades into electro while spreading its buzz into related genres (acid house, Miami bass), the album flips and loops back into its own pop artery, Warner’s arena-ready sense of melody pulling the songs back from the precipice of synth minutiae. The brick-heavy horns on standout “Fall in Love With the Enemy” do exactly what MNDR clearly set out to do: make the point that electronic dance music was already pop in the first place. It’s a grime track, triple-time claps on the counter-rhythm, but instead of some crazy spitter with an East London twang, we get Warner swooning and lilting in a discordantly lusty frame of mind: “Only youuuuuuuuuu / Only you get the best of me.”

That was love; on the other hand, there is intellect. Somber electro ballad “Feed Me Diamonds” refers to pioneering performance artist Marina Abramovic’s father, while the Xanadu-style anthem “#1 in Heaven” is an ode to Patty Hearst (and sounds like the beret-clad ingénue riding a pegasus on a rainbow over Berkeley). With “Faster Horses,” the title’s allusion to Henry Ford’s famous quote seems less like a critique and more like a construct from a Ray Bradbury story — the one where the machines run a post-apocalyptic world, doing their day-to-day like clockwork in homes where the humans have all disappeared. It’s got an ironic bite: As Warner’s synths glimmer with electricity and the breaks lean into ’90s drum’n’bass territory, she sings in a silvery, silicon voice about wanting to drop out of the jaded information age. The goal is not to morph into pure technology, though — like all great dance music, despite all its circuitry, these songs are purely about the body high.