It’s fair to say that Modwheelmood owe a lot of their current success to Nine Inch Nails. Lead singer / multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini played keyboards in NIN from 2004 to 2008 and like every other band that comes into contact with the illustrious and influential hands of Mr. Reznor; a whole fan-base is waiting for you, ala Marilyn Manson, Prick and Filter. The Californian band are no Marilyn Manson though. With basic pop tunes against a background of synths and drum machines, Modwheelmood come off as more of as a cross between The Beatles and Air, rather than an angry, fuck-the-world industrial rock band.
Being one of those eternally disrupted bands, caught between touring schedules for other artists and their own equally busy LA lives, they’ve have managed to still churn out one of the better synth-pop albums of the last five years, even if it is in their spare time. Originally released online via Amazon and iTunes in three separate EPs, (Volumes 1, 2 and 3), the now singular Pearls to Pigs is the third studio release from the band, and shows the band at their most developed and mature yet. Admittedly, previous releases showed promise, but were undeveloped and -to put it crudely – cheap sounding, as the spark and talent were evident, but the duo were unable to capture it beneficially. However, with fancy new equipment and a touring band pay check the size of Argentina, Cortini and his band mate Pelle Hillstrom have crafted sixteen almost perfect tunes that go far beyond what is conceived as the norm in today’s blog driven alternative scene.
Album opener “Problem Me” is an immediate highlight – a soft, glitchy, lamenting tune that opens the album on a down tempo note. The album quickly tumbleweeds out of control as the combination of “MHz”, “Forli” and “Bellevue Avenue” quicken the pace, and comfortably showcases Modwheelmood’s ability to compose almost perfect pop. The band is a dynamic one, able to cross between electronica based rock to acoustic ballads to downright minimalist ambience, as Cortini’s side project Blindoldfreak proves further. As Pearls to Pigs progresses, on the surface, it is easy to interpret the songs as different. However, it is within the beauty of Cortini’s songwriting ability that allows this, as essentially, they are crafted of the same mold; electronic beats, electric guitars and up tempo in nature.
While “Your Place” may easily escape the average listener, merely being a thirty second cutaway track, it is undoubtadly a silent achiever, being a hidden highlight. Playful, yet serious – the track is a perfect segue to the final third of the album, being the most experimental aspect of Pearls to Pigs. “Thursday” is where the band meets rock and electronica head on, clashing its jingly repetitive guitar, low pulsing beat and a drone, created by the Buchla, Cortini’s signature instrument (think 60’s sci-fi crossed with the flying spaghetti monster). It is impossible to ignore “Thursday”, being the most engaging and intriguing on the album, showing a possible future direction for the band.
For some, it is understandable that album may fall flat as Cortini’s voice is clearly going to be grating to some. However, his high register and skills as a balladeer are reminscant of an Italian Jeff Buckley, which can certainly be considered a good thing and the perfect accompaniment to the music. In association, it is also quite a lengthy record that should be seen in a sympathetic light as it once existed as three separate EP’s. However, with enough variety and a dynamic and ever changing sound palette, these sixteen tracks are certainly worth investing some serious time in.