Brazil's CSS release their follow-up to 2006's "Cansei de Ser Sexy" ("I got tired of being sexy"). They've toured worldwide a number of times with the likes of Gwen Stefani, Ladytron, Klaxons, and Diplo, and played festivals from Coachella, Pitchfork, and Virgin to Reading, Benicassim, Roskilde, and beyond. "Donkey" is tough, street-ready, and recreates the frenetic energy of their live shows. Equal parts dance party, urban circus, and out-and-out chaos.
Review by Heather Phares
After delivering an acclaimed debut, bands sometimes try to "improve" their follow-up with a more sophisticated approach that, all too often, ends up overpowering what was appealing about their music in the first place. Cansei de Ser Sexy's self-titled first album was a glorious D.I.Y. hash of chunky guitars, cheap synths, and Lovefoxxx's brashly sexy vocals, and its rawness just made it more bracing. The band's vivid sound seemed indelible, but its second album, Donkey, proves otherwise. CSS' guitarist Adriano Cintra produced this album as well as CSS, but Donkey sounds much more polished; though Mark "Spike" Stent mixed these songs, his work with artists like Björk suggests that this album's more generic sound isn't his fault. "Let's Reggae All Night"'s ultra-simple riffs, buzzing synths, and pidgin song title aim to recapture CSS' appeal, but fall flat in Donkey's cleaner surroundings; "Give Up" and the stream-of-consciousness party meditation "Jager Yoga" deliver the outlines of catchy songs, but don't fill them in with memorable hooks. Strangely, for a good chunk of Donkey, the band separates the messy mesh of guitars and keyboards that made CSS so much good dirty fun. Instead, they separate it into chugging songs reminiscent of late-'80s/early-'90s college rock that dominates the first half of the album, and sleekly synthetic pop that makes up most of Donkey's second half. Neither approach succeeds completely, although the excellent "Move" actually benefits from its polished surroundings, setting off its skipping beat with percolating synths and understated, Afro-pop-tinged guitars, while "Rat Is Dead (Rage)" fuses the Pixies' buzzsaw riffs and solos and sing-song melodies to a tale of domestic abuse and murderous revenge. The fact that a CSS song is about something besides sex, art or music -- or any combination of the three -- is another way that Donkey's sophistication is markedly different from the band's previous work, and not always for the better. "How I Became Paranoid" is just too wordy for its own good, suggesting that the band should stick to slogan-like lyrics like "music is my boyfriend." Lovefoxxx's lyrics seem more inspired by a living, breathing boyfriend than by music itself, whether she's proving how much she doesn't miss him on "Left Behind" (which boasts a verse melody uncannily similar to Nicolette Larson's "It's Gonna Take a Lot of Love"), or charming him into making her a sandwich on the quirkily romantic final track "Air Painter." She, and the rest of the band, sound so downright respectable on most of Donkey that it's sometimes hard to believe this album was made by the same people who cranked out sassy, sleazy rants against art bitches and Paris Hilton just one album before. Polished instead of rough, thoughtful instead of brash, Donkey isn't an outright failure, but it certainly is an odd and sometimes disappointing move from a band that didn't necessarily need to change its direction.