I was supposed to write a singles column for a magazine that, technically, no longer exists. It got held back for several months (not the editor’s doing), and finally I began to get the hint and pulled it, recycling bits for an It’s a Hit column instead. Below, I present it in full. It’s a roundup of then-current/recent DFA Records (and related) 7- and 12-inches. Enjoy.
James Murphy, who leads LCD Soundsystem, has always wrestled with the idea of “hip” in his lyrics. But the concept also informs the way he runs his label, DFA Records. In dance music, you’re only as hip as those you associate with. In Murphy’s case, that means which acts he signs, and who he taps for remixes. But it also means the musicians you can hear being referenced on each new batch of DFA (and affiliated) singles.
On LCD’s recently recorded cover of 1994’s “Throw” by Paperclip People (iTunes download), the reference point is more obvious than usual: Detroit techno kingpin Carl Craig. The ten-minute track’s live instrumentation, aping the relentless momentum of Craig’s original programmed arrangement, is thrilling to watch in concert, but as a download it has to settle for live-band-playing-techno novelty, however charming. On the other hand, the 7-inch B-side of LCD’s“Drunk Girls” (DFA/Parlophone) features a wonderfully reductionist take on the same song by Wooden Shjips, who give it staccato New York punk guitars and subdued organ reminiscent of ’60s girl-group pop.
Another pair of remakes occupies a recent DFA 12-inch vinyl single: Friendly Fires’ “Hold On” backed by Holy Ghost!’s “On Board,” with Friendly Fires covering Holy Ghost! and vice versa. The blipping keyboards and flat programmed drums that hook the original “Hold On” are replaced by the rumbling bass, tense guitar, bustling drums of a rock band. The Fires’ “On Board,” a sweaty avant-funk groove, becomes tremolo-guitar-led disco-rock that could have been on the radio in 1982, waves-lapping-ashore yacht-rock updated to era of Toto rather than Pablo Cruise—with minimalism replacing bloat to excellent effect.
Murphy’s rock hipster side is also evident on YACHT’s “The Afterlife” (DFA). The song is a handclap-powered pop number with a flatly delivered but oddly hopeful lyric: “It may come as a surprise/That you are not alone/All that you have is not what you own.” Unfortunately, the song’s remixes are mostly negligible. The xx fare best by stripping the track down to a rattling, skeletal rhythm with vocals and a couple of synth lines dropped in. Joy Electric’s remix is the most archetypal synth-poppy. Andrew W.K. contributes a house track doesn’t gel at all. (It would still be great to hear W.K. turn his hand to gabber, that berserk Dutch techno sub-genre.) May Ling’s messy cover version complements the ’80s feel of the Joy Electric remix.
The throwbacks continue with saxophonist Peter Gordon & the Love of Life Orchestra, who were among downtown New York’s early ’80s wave of avant garde-minded disco. The Orchestra’s cult 12-inch single, “Beginning of the Heartbreak/Don’t Don’t,” formed the bookends of Murphy and LCD drummer Pat Mahoney’s FabricLive 36 DJ mix. The A-side of “Another Heartbreak/Don’t Don’t Redux”/“That Hat” (DFA) remixes that classic, and the effect is scattered. The “Heartbreak” half sacrifices tautness, but the languid tone on “Don’t Don’t” gives the song a push the original lacked. The B-side, recorded in 1984 and unissued till now, is a collaboration with mutant-disco pioneer Arthur Russell that adds another notch to Russell’s posthumous legend.
The late ’80s—the time when acid house emerged from Chicago’s underground clubs—is saluted on “Oh My”/“Okay, Cool”(DFA), from TBD, a.k.a. Out Hud/!!! bassist Justin Vandervolgen and house producer Lee Douglas. Both sides hew to acid house basics—a hammering beat and a yammering Roland 303 synthesizer tweaked till it chirps. But “Oh My” introduces some rock guitar about halfway through, giving it a strange extra dimension—genuine hybrids of acid rock and acid house weren’t too common then, and aren’t now.
The keyboards of Shit Robot’s “I Got a Feeling”/“Norfolk Nights” (DFA), meanwhile, hearken to late-’80s house music, minus the acid. The a-side features a soulful male vocal that sounds like it’s in a hurry, while the b-side marries heavy tom-tom beats with the kind of driving, lovely, plastic-sounding synths you might find on an early 808 State record.
For the 12-inch accompanying his recent, excellent DJ-Kicks mix, “Feel So Good” (!K7), the Juan MacLean sinks into a luxuriant boogie. The synths are simultaneously metallic and glassy; it’s almost Hi-NRG, that very gay, early ’80s synth disco. “Feels So Good” is different in sound and tone from the Juan MacLean’s 2008’s mighty “Happy House” single, but it’s appealing on the same level. This lyric makes less sense than the more immediate “Happy House”—“You like it when it’s when it’s too much, much/You like it when it gets hush, hush”—but DFA in-house diva Nancy Whang’s measured delivery rubs nicely against the track. Florian Mendl’s spaced-out remix adds some frosty highlights.
For fans that miss the McLean’s synth-pop leanings, Black Van’s modest “Yearning”(DFA), which starts out sketchily and builds presence over six minutes, might do the trick, though I far prefer the remix by British synth mavens the Emperor Machine on the 12-inch’s flip—think Stereolab gone to a modern-day disco. Similarly, feel free to skip the A-side original in favor of Michoacan’s “In the Dark of the Night (Clap Rules Remix)” (DFA), a strutting, extravagant synth-funk workout. With its multiple movements, the Michoacan remix is evidence of a prog streak that the DFA has never been shy about, and as with much of the label’s recent output, they have good reason to show off here.
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