Singles Review | DFA for Spring

DFA's Spring Awakening

After a winter spent in the studio, a host of DFA artists knock out new 12"s.

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog | 03.20.10

(Be sure to head to the TOC site to give all the tracks reviewed an upfront listen!)

There was quite a buzz at the Dialogue Inc offices when five new promos from DFA Records landed in our mailboxes earlier this week. Ranging from label staples (Shit Robot) to debut releases from scene vets (Ray Man) to the completely brand new (Black Van, the new production project from heavyweight Kris Menace and KoweSix of Moonbootica) the label has big things in store for spring 2010.

Black Van “Yearning” + Emperor Machine remix

Menace and KoweSix are each known in their own right for pushing electro and house sounds that are suited to peaktime hours. But here they step away from that altogether, instead releasing “Yearning,” a track that shows off a mellower side (and an affinity for ’80s dance music). Emotive synths float delicately on top of padded drums and a sparse boogie bassline, making for a perfect start of the night stunner.

Emperor Machine’s remix offers more dance floor fodder for those who aren’t interested in headphones-only house. Gone are the tracks softer edges; instead we get extra punchy and seemingly live drumming, distorted bass and a menacing—no pun intended—string blast that gives way to sheer disco boogie. With Emperor Machine there’s no escaping the haunting Goblin-era Italo and Dario Argento-soundtrack style spookiness. It’s helped them carve a respectable niche on DC Recordings and is just as effective here.

The Crystal Ark “The City Never Sleeps” + Instrumental

A man of many hats, Gavin Russom has found a home for himself at DFA as an instrument repairman and inventor, fixing and freaking synths for the label’s studios for the better part of a decade. When not satiating his gear head tendencies, he’s recording left field dance rock under numerous guises, his most recent—besides the Crystal Ark—being Black Meteoric Star.

For this latest composition he drew influence from a recent trip to Brazil, taking in traditional Brazilian drumming and South America’s vibrant club scene and combining that with classic European rave sounds. The result is “The City Never Sleeps,” an epic piece of deepness that is guaranteed to put smiles on faces from Berlin to Detroit. The warm house, sexy Spanish vocals and dissonant synths may drift slightly from DFA’s core, but this potent dance floor bomb is so solid we’d be happy to if the label worked more of it into the catalog as Russom dedicates more time to the project.

Michoacan “In the Dark of the Night” + Clap Rules remix

Bay area producer Michoacan as always taken an outsiders approach to making disco dance tunes. A self professed lover of hip-hop—and, if we had to guess, ample doses of good ol’ Mary Jane—his tracks maintain potent dance worthiness without adhering to the usual conventions.

“In the Dark of the Night” is a pristine example of this. While we don’t anticipate that it’ll be blowing the roof of clubs anytime soon, this slo-mo basement disco is the type of cut that comes about after two too many joints and an all night basement studio session. Live drums plod along at only 97 bpm while cosmic keys and celestial bells swirl in and out. It sounds as if Flea joined Tinkerbell in the studio after a night out on MDMA. Then there’s those D.I.Y. punk vocals about a mysterious “they” that creeps about under darkness stealing “what’s yours and mine.” Yeah. We don’t know what to make of all that either. Guess you had to be there.

Italian upstarts Clap Rules handle the remix duties. Floating around the scene for the past couple years, the trio—headed by Fabrizio Mammarella, a well-known producer in his own right—is a perfect fit to tweak this tune for more dance floor appeal. With releases on Tiny Sticks and Bear Funk Records, these dudes are left field disco through and through.

Ray Mang “Bulletproof” + “Look Into My Eyes”

If you needed more proof that DFA’s stylistic eye is wandering on from ’70s disco and into more electronic ’80s boogie and proto house sounds, look no further than “Bulletproof,” which sees Mang enlisting Dee Lite’s Lady Miss Kier for a throbbing cosmic funk workout. In all honesty, as much as we love the progression and the diversity here, this song comes off more like a generic pastiche of styles than it does anything innovative.

On this 12 the real gold lies hidden on the b-side. The mellowness of “Look Into My Eyes” steals the show here. We love a dance party as much as the next club enthusiast, but with the spring sun just beginning to emerge, this spacey and subdued number is a type of laid-back that’s much more our speed.

Shit Robot “I Got a Feeling” + “Norfolk Nights”

As if these other four releases weren’t enough to show off DFA’s versatility, we end with Marcus Lambkin’s latest work as Shit Robot. The Berlin-based Dubliner continues to give the label the classic techno injection that it needs. Across both tracks the beats click, the bass warbles and the piano rolls on, especially on “I Got a Feeling.” It’s not a stretch to draw comparison to Carl Craig here. Building slowly over the first half of the track, elements are added piece by piece until the epic breakdown gives way to deeply soulful vocals from House of House’s Saheer Umar. If you freaked for HoH’s “Rushing to Paradise” the way we did, then this is the ideal slow burning follow up.

The flipside’s “Norfolk Nights” is blissful techno affair with warm synth progressions playing nice over steady 808 style drum programming. A tasteful close out to this round-up, all that’s left now is to wait in calm anticipation of the new LCD Soundsystem full length, due out sometime this summer.


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