Tag Archives: DFA Records

Raw repetition 

A few years back, I had a wretched dream in which Spoon recorded an album of tinkly lounge piano music, in debt to the worst indulgences of Steely Dan’s milieu. The album was titled Raw Repetition, and I’m glad it never came to pass (though They Want Your Soul features a blue-note-tastic cover of “I Just Don’t Understand”).

I mention this because of Factory Floor‘s monomaniacal comeback single, “Dial Me In”, which rides a three-note acid bassline for all its 6.5 minute duration. Continue reading Raw repetition 

The Holy Ghost of Michael McDonald

You might know of my straight-faced love of Steely Dan, a jazzy duo who at their peak relied on the very best session singers and musicians. One such singer was Michael McDonald, whose husky and resonant tones are not that dissimilar from the digitally smeared vocals Karin Dreijer Andersson trickles over her songs as Fever Ray.

McDonald went on to found the Doobie Brothers, but not before he did backup vocals on classics like “Peg” and “I Got The News“. And McDonald’s trademark pipes get around even today, cropping up now and again on other people’s songs. In 2009 he appeared on a B-side version of Grizzly Bear‘s “While You Wait For The Others“, which showcases his distinctive voice in a lead setting. The original version was led by Daniel Rossen, who has a pretty honeyed voice, but McDonald has a beefier go at it, and then tackles the complex vocal arrangement in the song’s final minute, augmenting it with soaring accents.

More recently still, DFA quasi-heirs Holy Ghost! brought in McDonald for the closing song on their eponymous debut, “Some Children“. Like many of the songs on Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest album, “Some Children” has a natty choral arrangement, but Holy Ghost! are totally different in every other way. No intricate baroque pop in sight, they make sleek electro-by-numbers which can come across rather characterless. They know their way round a disco bassline, and the DFA production team gives it the requisite layers of vintage Clavinet and close-miked live drums, but it can veer off into anonymity.

Not so “Some Children”, which is reined in by McDonald’s lead vocals. On this occasion, he makes a sweet song more sultry—his curious phrasing has the effect of virtually slowing the verses down, before unleashing a richly textured extended outro, with his harmonies piercing through the stacked choir. It’s a really lovely, fitting finale which restores my confidence in the band—and pays Michael McDonald’s heating bills.

Why do McDonald’s vocal talents still appeal? He doesn’t have an equivalent in contemporary popular music, which has increasingly become the territory of more polarised singers (dramatic falsetto on the one hand, pained baritone on the other). Moreover, the kind of complex arrangements he specialised in has become the preserve of composers, and not multi-taskers (think of Nico Muhly, for example). So, perhaps when a band goes hunting for a man who can do it all, and add an inimitable personality to a song, it’s unsurprising they alight upon him. If that’s the case, go forth and multiply.

When I saw Prinzhorn Dance School (officially designated the band least likely to be signed to a major record label) at a 10th anniversary party for DFA Records (whoosh, thump, namedrop) I was surprised by how much more, in the flesh, they reminded me of Gang of Four. There is of course a shared caustic sense of humour to both bands’ work, but seen on stage the music itself melds with my memories of the original post-punk poster-boys.

On their forthcoming second album, Clay Class, I think there’s to be a subtle shift from the brittleness of their debut, towards a more flowing style that’s occasionally interrupted by the shouty bits of old. If you will, it sounds a bit more informed by Gang of Four. No bad thing, if you found their old stuff a bit too primal.

The second song to be teased out from Clay Class is “Happy in Bits“, which lopes along quite a melodic little riff. The bass-line is as primitive as ever, which is how I like it, but it’s lower in the mix; lower than Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn’s angry/coital vocals, at least.

DFA at 10

Newsflash: I write too much about DFA Records. Geeky fact: my iPod is engraved with “The DFA” on its back. All context aside, however, it’s really great that the label set up by Messrs. Murphy and Goldsworthy in 2001 has hit such a milestone, and I helped ring in the years on Tuesday night when I attended a little party-cum-gig at the cosy 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street.

Given that the last gig I went to was Flying Lotus at the Roundhouse two weeks prior, this was a radically stripped-down affair. Three tight bands; no fluff, no guff; adoring fans standing not farther than five metres from the stage. First up were the comically stark Prinzhorn Dance School, back after something of an extended spell making their second album. Deadpan to the extreme, the lyrics about small-town gruesomeness were set against abrasive, Gang Of Four-style post punk. Martial drums from a ponytailed extra left plenty of air in the mix for Tobin Prinz’s caustic fretwork and Suzi Horn’s bottomless bass-lines. The new songs sounded slightly more heartfelt, rather like the closing track on their debut album, “Spaceman In Your Garden”, but there was something so primal in the yelping of older cuts like “Up! Up! Up!” and “Crackerjack Docker”.

Next came Y△CHT (ultra-stylized, as ever), with the core duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans still expanded to take in the backing band who are, I think, still called The Straight Gaze. Evans was striking in a space-age ecru dress, writhing and gesticulating all across the stage and floor. Behind her, the feel-good white boy funk proved mildly intoxicating, recalling the Tom Tom Club. Plinky-plonk keys and socially awkward beats were very much the order of the day; moderately amusing PowerPoint graphics projected onto a rickety screen provided further entertainment. The band were good enough to stop for a Q&A halfway through (unrequited) but more of the crowd took them up on their offer after their set.

Lead billing was given to The Rapture, whose breakthrough album Echoes was literally the coolest thing I’d ever heard when I finally got round to buying it in 2007. Back when they were a foursome, they did for dance-friendly music what The Strokes did for rock ‘n’ roll. Now reduced to a trio, they’re still a raucous live act. Luke Jenner and Vito Roccoforte look a bit more padded round the edges nowadays, but they still whip up a sonic storm between the drumkit and the ubiquitous red Telecaster; meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi looks like he hasn’t aged a day since 2003, and flits between keys, saxophone and cowbell. Opening with a salvo of newer songs, the band still felt relevant and history-making, but the real fun began when a pummelling 808 beat kicked in, marking the unmistakeable “Olio”, the Echoes opener which incredibly crossed the divide between punk and acid house. The crowd went nuts, and rightly so. From there, the set took a darkier, clubbier vibe, with standout new track “Come Back To Me” emerging from a foggy accordion sample into a wildly filtered beat, and the anthemic “House Of Jealous Lovers” transforming the floor into a joyous riot.

There was a short encore, embraced by the nostalgic crowd in spite of its lack of retrospection. Their comeback single, “How Deep Is Your Love” was given a triumphant airing, with its house piano chords tapping into the soul of the venue, before the band closed shop with “Sail Away”, another victory march.

What a brilliantly low-key way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of a record label who truly changed the way we think about music to dance to.

You can find some photographs which do justice to the sheer emotion of welcoming back The Rapture over at This Is Fake DIY.

I was late to the DFA party, by dint of having been twelve years old at the time of “Losing My Edge“‘s release. But I made amends, as you may have noticed. When I went to HMV to buy Sound of Silver (a week after its release date—I wasn’t late to that party!), I also bought The Rapture‘s breakthrough album, Echoes, which, I quickly discovered, kickstarted the dance-punk revolution.

Like Battles, The Rapture have also been reduced to a trio; they have lost bassist Matt Safer. Cleverly, they engineered mass global hysteria about a so-called rapture, as a clever marketing ploy to announce their return to music (the new album, In The Grace of Your Love, follows in September). In even better news, they’ve re-signed to the DFA family, meaning an end to the sad-face which usually accompanied any mention of The Rapture in James Murphy interviews. Most importantly of all, the teaser track for their fourth album, “How Deep Is Your Love” (not a Bee Gees cover) is uncommonly good fun.

Dropping the punk half of the tag, the song is blessed with an ear-catching chorus, a restless rhythm, and seven-odd minutes of Italo house piano. Halfway through the song, everything but the piano cuts out, and singer Luke Jenner (I use this term loosely) tunelessly wails the title phrase. You think it can’t get more unhinged—and then there’s a skronking sax solo, which proceeds to go crazy for the rest of the song, peeking out from the mix at all the right moments.

Dance music hasn’t sounded this in-your-face live since Hercules And Love Affair‘s “Blind“. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to pick a cowbell and join in the fun.

[Photo: flickr user moralis]