I Heard Your Single: A survey of the month's releases, featuring Gorillaz, Sufjan Stevens, Mary J. Blige, and a whole mess of remixes
On the last Friday of each month I survey recent singles from local acts—selectively, not exhaustively. By “singles,” I mean everything from 7- and 12-inches to “focus tracks” (e.g. they gave the MP3 away two months before the album release, or made a video), and by “local” I mean they live in New York. (Remixes and guest appearances by New Yorkers on out-of-towners’ records also get looks in.) Suggestions are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org, no guarantees made. Here’s March, which included a heck of a lot of house music and remix work, but has rock and rap hiding out in there too, and a few bona fide stars bookending things:
The amount of attention that Gorillaz feat. James Murphy & Andre 3000’s “Do Ya Thing” (Converse) received when it came out last month was understandably outsized—just look at that lineup. The track’s fizzy analog feel hits a lot of aural sweet spots—it’s packed but sounds airy—and the long “I’m the shit,” fake-LCD middle section of the 13-minute version, with Andre 3000 yakking through static like Murphy, is certainly a diversion. It wraps back around into his rapped verse with Kanye-like grandeur. But tribulations-of-a-superstar is tired no matter who’s doing it. Further from the bang of its issue, the song sounds fine, but not particularly momentous. Really, the short version will do you just fine.
Murphy’s first single with DFA Records, the Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers,” was initially sold to distributors on the back of its B-side remix by Morgan Geist, who is half of both Metro Area and Storm Queen. The latter act features Geist making elastic, glassy, synth-driven, disco-inflected house with Washington, D.C., singer-songwriter Damon C. Scott. Storm Queen's late-2010 single “Look Right Through”, originally out on Geist’s label Environ, arrived with little pre-release fanfare but maximal post-release impact. There’s suavity to the track—it glides, but it’s also deeply soulful, with Scott’s falsetto “ho”s on the chorus particularly enthralling. Last year, Defected licensed the track—in dance terms, something like a tiny indie release being picked up for distribution by Sub Pop—and more recently has issued a passel of big-club-name remixes, all worth a listen, all playing pretty much exactly how you’d imagine them to.
Jamie Jones pitch-shifts the percussion and reduces the beat to circa-’87 hats and claps and one-note bass pulse. Aeroplane make the synths blip away, and the rhythm skip away, beguilingly. The “Dimitri From Paris’ Eurodisco Mix” is really more big-room house, circa its high point around 1989—Morse-code pianos, ahoy! Art Department starts stark and then layers on that wowing synth part in monomaniacal fashion. Finally, Detroit cut-up sample-master Mark Kinchen, who abandoned house music for hip-hop in the ’90s, returns to the dance spotlight twice here. The “MK Don’t Talk to Me Dub” features precisely the kind of sharp-cut vocal lines and enveloping bass that marked his great early-’90s work, while the “MK Morning Vocal Mix” evokes the same era more songfully.
Speaking of the Rapture making nice for DJs, that band’s Gabriel Andruzzi debuts his new dance alias, DJ Druzz vs. Omega Mus, with “Apeman” (Throne of Blood). It contains Tarzan noises; it also contains an insistent oscillating-squee hook, an insistent fizzy-keyboard hook, and an insistent tuned-percussion hook. The Monty Luke remix is worth attending to as well, though its space-disco ambience and embedded sampled vocal “uh!” really have nothing in common with the original track. And speaking of people in Brooklyn rock-etc. bands, Yeasayer's Ahmed Gallab does business on his own as Sinkane. His new “Runnin'” (Bandcamp) is a short (2.5 minutes), nice enough throwback Latin-flavored funk-rock sung with a light falsetto. But the real grabber is the remix by Daphni, whom you may know better as Caribou, who tweaks a brittle synth line till it squeals, keeping things at a roiling tension for seven minutes.
Some other good remixes: Galapagoose’s “One Who Can't Move (Braille Remix)” (Magical Properties; download via Urb) further refines the soul-vocal drift Praveen Sharma’s been moving towards as Braille—increasingly, it’s becoming more solid than airy. Chrome Canyon’s “Body Music (Heroismo Remix)” (On the Fruit; SoundCloud) is a glossed-up version of what five years ago might have been called “blog house,” by which I mean simply that it’s indebted to Daft Punk, down to being catchy. Midnight Magic’s “Drop Me a Line (Holy Ghost Remix)” (download via Gotta Dance Dirty) rewires the early-’80s redux of the original to something more akin to late-’80s, very bright-pastel. And Sufjan Stevens’ “Futile Devices (Shigeto Remix)” (download via The Fader) reduces the singer to one ambrosia-scented haze in a maze of them, which is just fine with me.
Gosteffects’ “Slave to the Sweat” (Afterlife) is worth a listen; see also the Housquare mix, with its deliberate back-to-’92 yammering keyboard interludes. (Another good recent record in that style, Dream Continuum’s Reworkz E.P. on Planet Mu, is tangentially related here—one member is Travis Stewart, formerly of Brooklyn and now in Berlin, and half of Sepalcure with Braille’s Praveen Sharma.) You needn’t bother with the Rule of Eight mix of “Sweat”—it’s dubstep for dummies, a style you can hear done far better on Break Science’s Monolith Code E.P. (Pretty Lights), particularly on “Whole World Locked” and the fizzy “Resistance March.” Rather than coming out of the dance or rock world, the duo—Adam Deitch and Borahm Lee—are hip-hop veterans who sound like they’re having fun tweaking this stuff, however recherché—see “Beaming Up,” which could be a lost (early, good) Crystal Method B-side. Our side-trip through dance music’s hardcore continuum concludes with Treasure Fingers’ “Rooftop Revival” (Scion A/V; download), a nifty nod to circa-1997 2-step garage. There are six versions on the E.P., but all you really need is the radio edit.
Just as liquid-sounding, but on a completely different side of the dial, is Violens’ “Der Microarc” (Slumberland; download), which is both watery and wussy, thanks to singer Jorge Elbrecht, but has sharp edges via his chime-and-skronk guitar, and the production is deep enough to really sink into. “Pretender” (Hardly Art; SoundCloud), by Brooklyn coldwavers Black Marble, is more one-dimensional, in every way, but its darksider organ drone and Goth vocal charm rather than wear. Fort Lean’s “Sunsick” (Neon Gold/Black Bell) is a dead ringer for early, straight-backed U2—the opening lyric is even “Working on my posture”—except when it breaks into a fast breakdown with an odd forward inflection that makes it sound like they spent too much time playing ska. Santigold’s “Disparate Youth” (Downtown; YouTube) has some skank, too, brought out by the dubby piano and skittering drums, but feels more early-’90s college-rocky, thanks partly to a what-next? lyric.
Finally, a few singles by people whose name your mom knows: Putting a Drake verse at the top of a Mary J. Blige song titled “Mr. Wrong” (Geffen) is typecasting, right? The bell-heavy track has the amber-lit feel of his album more than any of hers, but that’s not a complaint. It’s not resounding praise, either. Norah Jones’s “Happy Pills” (Blue Note; YouTube) has slightly more chug than usual, but she and producer Danger Mouse reinforce one another’s dullest tendencies here. As for Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild” (Interscope; YouTube), I give up.