In the current climate of ruthless blog scrutiny, good records can easily disappear with little or no press and supposedly major albums are forgotten within weeks of release. With that in mind, we bring youSecond Spin, where we’ll take a look at records that have either slipped between the hype cracks or re-evaluate albums after the press cycle has left them for dead. In the first installment, Michaelangelo Matos chills in the superclub’s VIP lounge, vacations in a soul motel, and gurgles and boings to a minimal techno soundtrack.
Sometimes basic is best. Of course, with disco-house, “basic” usually means florid: rhythm guitars extracting as much of Nile Rodgers’ DNA as a sampler can fit, divas either overwhelming the proceedings or airily threading through them, light syncopation, gurgling keyboard lines, rainbow-brite string arrangements, all of it liable to be fed through a low-pass filter on a remixer’s whim. You might think three discs worth of variations on this basic template is too much, and you’d be right. But too much is also par for the course with this stuff, and in that sense Fierce Disco is the best imaginable introduction to the last couple years’ worth of mainstream disco-house.
The label it comes from has a silly name (Fierce Angel), and grew out of another label with an equally silly name (Hed Kandi), that spent much of the decade issuing countlss double-CD house and “chill” collections of high-end superclub anthems. Hed Kandi’s colorful covers starring line-drawn “hotties,” usually holding cocktails, remain with Fierce Angel, as does a semi-anonymous “brand identity” that evokes endless nights of overzealous security and bottle service. But however uncool they were at heart, the best Hed Kandi comps were put together with obvious care, and so is Fierce Disco. All it wants to do is exhilarate you between double-shifts and finals.
Even for a triple CD, this thing has a lot of excellent tracks, which as a triple CD it had better. Fave raves: Jamie Lewis’s remix of Bob Sinclar’s “Champ Elysées Theme,” with its suspended, dewy-eyed strings; Masters at Work’s ridiculous Village People-meets-Miss Cleo “Work (Riff ‘n’ Rays Remix)”; Laura Kidd’s curling neo-electro “Automatic”; Freemasons ft. Amanda Wilson’s “I Feel Like,” with its “oh, baby” hovering in the background. You may not learn anything new, but sometimes reacquainting yourself with the basics is lesson enough.
Much as I adore a well-turned playlist, this collection of “Southern Soul from the Chitlin’ Circuit,” as it’s subtitled, has the well-constructed-album fan in me psyched. Not only because it’s solid all the way through, but for having a second half that’s better than the first. Most of the songs are from this decade, not that the feel especially contemporary: it’s down-home soul-blues, with most of the karaoke-ready keyboards a minor stumbling block. Still, nothing gets in the way of the songs–all excellent, many great. At first my favorite was Peggy Scott-Adams’s “If It Ain’t Broke,” with its guitar lick’s family resemblance to “Mr. Big Stuff” and the singer’s wonderful timing. A few others vied for the crown, notably Lee Fields’ “I’ll Go to Jail” (the most old-fashioned sounding, befitting a guy better-known for his retro-funk stuff on the Desco and Soul Fire labels) and Gwen McCrae’s “Psychic Hotline” (“Dionne War’ick, are you listening to me, girlfriend?”). But ultimately, I just want to see the look on the faces of Ang Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Heath Ledger when they hear the climax of Barbara Carr’s “Down Low Brother”:
“He was a brokeback.”
“He was a what?”
Gurgle gurgle, boink boink. Burble burble, boing boing. It’s not just techno, it’s “minimal.” Ten tracks, the longest 6:18, the shortest 5:23. All titles, except for one, are along the lines of “Twilite 1,” the exception being “Green 01 (Skoozbot’s Twilite Remix),” which in this company practically counts as a radical departure. Recently, it drove my roommate’s girlfriend out of the living room; it also exacerbated my headache once. Yet I find this rather soothing and playful–comfort food for robots, Pong with amplification and tonal color, less “dance music,” though beats drive every second of it, than something with which to bounce around your stainless-steel portal, or dream of one. And whenever it seems like it might become too blandly linear for its own good, some weird bloop will line up just left of the ticking little clickbeat, or a stray grain will jam its way into the otherwise clean trajectory. It squiggles and bops enough to simulate virtual reality if not life itself, plus it’s got enough sub-bass to give it some dimension, not to mention thump you good every so often. Worth noting: the album’s other Skoozbot remix, of “Twilite 1,” is also my favorite track. That can’t be a coincidence, can it?