June 5, 2007

Oto Gelb / Daniel Wang - Magical Yellow Sound From Germania / Look Ma, No Drum Machine!


It’s likely that over the past year or so, “disco edits” have been clogging up the new releases page on your favorite vinyl retailer’s website. Now that any chimp (let alone human) can freely acquire an editing programming like Audacity within a few mouse clicks, we are all that much closer to being exposed to Rising Disco-Tech Producer #56 extending the introduction to a favorite or obscure disco/new wave track by four minutes, and paying for the privilege to hear it. All together now: “And then I was discouraged by YOU!”

At their best, disco edits reveal hidden potential in otherwise imperfect tracks, and/or turn you on to a new set of tracks to dig for. The Idjuts Boys’ series of re-edit CDs on Noid takes this one step further by adding in new material, overdubbed effects, and wilder arrangements to the original source material. But it’s negligible how many edits actually need to be released on vinyl, especially when the original artists/tracks are rarely credited.

Daniel Wang seem frustrated at this state of edits too, and seemingly in a response to raise the level of re-arranging discourse, has reactivated his Balihu label with two edit-friendly releases of his own. The first is a new release of disco edits under the name Oto Gelb, with a press release that justifies itself by saying “[this is] music you just can’t make on a laptop, and that’s why it’s so good.” I hate to be an equally bitter pill, but there is not much to get excited about here, unless the idea of disco versions of Bach and Debussy tick your novelty sensors. This version of Bach’s “Air On A G-String” does give me a suave and sentimental feeling though, as if I was visiting Dimitri from Paris in an old folks home twenty years from now.

The second release is a reissue of Wang’s debut EP from 1993, Look Ma, No Drum Machine, which is one of his most highly regarded works, thanks to “Like Some Dream (I Can’t Stop Dreaming)” being a long time staple of disco and house DJs. And the track still works a treat, pasting an emotionally tense vocal snippet from Sleeque’s “One For The Money” onto a blank disco drums canvas, effectively flattening the tension into some kind of detached wonder. Actually, the entire EP is made up of sampled disco records, and while it was a common practice at the time for deep house records to work off a disco sample, Wang’s material here has more of a raw and homemade feel to it. On the b-side, “Gotta Get Up” is as fine a disco-house number as you can get without using a bassline, “Warped” falls a little flat if you’ve heard “Time Warp” from Disco Not Disco 2, and “Get Up, Get Up” locks into a more soulish loop a la Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edits.

While both of these records feels more “angsty” than necessary, Look Ma is still worthy of your time, and should put Daniel back in the public eye with both DJs and MP3 bloggers, just in time for his upcoming full-length album.

Balihu / BAL 016
Balihu / BAL 001
[Michael F. Gill]

May 22, 2007

Trusme - Brown’s


Please don’t tell me I’m the only motherfucker on the internet who saw Maynard Ferguson’s play “The Fly” at North Penn High School ten plus years ago. The a-side moves exactly like KDJ’s “I Can’t Kick This Feelin’ When It Hits”: from the long opening tease to the impatient female crooner to the massive release when the funk finally kicks in, it’s wound tight enough to keep it away from the “funky house” bins and smooth jazz radio. The keyboard sustains are great but the horns midway… if there’s one regret for me it’s that I’ve heard them before. It’s possibly better than “I Can’t Kick This Feelin’,” which is saying something.

The title track is a fine enough beardo downtempo cut made from unrecognizable guitar jazz-funk, but “Good God” brings the tempo back up. Trusme uses the same formula as the a-side but this time with Harold Melvin and the Blue Note’s “Bad Luck” as the source material. Yep, that’s Teddy Pendergrass you’re hearing, and so the lines between jazz and funk and disco and house continue to be blurred into one gloriously incriminating mess.

Still Love Music / Stilove4music07
[Nick Sylvester]

May 16, 2007

Escort - All Through The Night


The appeal of this Brooklyn disco band, beyond the fact that all four of its twelves are completely kickass, is its unspoken role as aggregator: they take their genre’s best flourishes and leave the dreck behind. Think about how much terrible disco you’ve heard, like the really awful shit that basically just sounds like a boring r&b song with a faster beat and bombastic pro forma string arrangements, then listen to “All Through The Night”. All the signposts are here, the vocal/instrumental call-and-response games, the rhythm guitar produced uncannily to sound like Chic’s, the goofy synth splashes, the vocab (”If you want to sex me / give it up”), the duration (”All through the night”), the lush swells of strings, but it’s all streamlined and deployed really thoughtfully, without the excess. If you want a functional comparison, think about what Metro Area did with italo on their 2002 S/T. You just don’t get an album like that, or a track like “All Through The Night,” without the benefit of hindsight and time itself, the ultimate arbiter of classics and duds.

Escort / ESCRT 004
[Nick Sylvester]

April 9, 2007

Kathy Diamond - Over


Genius is one of those words that gets flung about and ends up bruised for the flinging. Theres always the value gap between labels of praise and the objects theyre stuck onits something thats too easy to say, and too difficult to be. Or (to mix metaphors), peel the label and youre left with a sticky residue that gathers dirt. So, having framed and disclaimed Maurice Fulton by implication, lets just sayits really good that such a multi-talented producer has found in Kathy Diamond a vocalist whose chords sympathize with his key qualities. Both the first fantastic All Woman EP and, now, Over intimate a collaboration that could see one of the years most accomplished syntheses of house, funk, disco and 80s-inflected pop.

Over harks far further back to its 70s roots than the former single, which swung off a slapping bassline and a big funk clap. Here its all organs and hall-size reverb, which lend a soaked stage for Fulton to let rip. Diamonds vocals seem to get a little lost in the big roomanother sound/effect in the overall instrumental. In fact, whether with or without the vocal, neither mix reaches the heights of the funky lowdown on All Woman. Yet between these two singles there exists a range of sounds and directions that begs for exploration and suggests the imminent arrival of something truly great. Thats all Im going to say.

Permanent Vacation / PERMVAC 008-1
[Peter Chambers]

March 13, 2007

Visions of Tomorrow - Galaxy


Not the War tune, but a lost gem of disco-boogie unearthed by the aptly-named Past Due label, wherein silly-spooky spaceman vocals and a ripe analog wiggle grace bar-band funk with nicely understated horns. The re-edits, courtesy of Charles Webster and Francois A. (cue joke about the K. being already taken) do the do, both elongating and tarting up the original for consumption by modern dancefloors. The Webster Edit is the most sympathetic to the original, slightly wack vibe, in that he seems mainly concerned with lengthening, strengthening, and exposing a bit more separation in the constituent parts to give it a more minimal/less retro feel. Francois A. is more interested in revisionism, and takes “Galaxy” into the uptempo house dimension in a big ole hurry. Strangely, it actually kinda worksI don’t know what he’s done apart from speed it up and ditch the vocals, but it reminds me of the halcyon days of filter-house, and that’s enough to ask. For now.

Past Due / PASTDUE001
[Mallory ODonnell]

March 13, 2007

Pony Express aka Idjut Boys - Smoke Me / Barrel Roll


Both these tracks were on the Boys’ Press Play beardo mix, you’ll recall. The topside is a re-edit of “Lowrider,” an uphill battle from the start considering how much high school pep band muck that song’s been dragged through, but it ends up pretty nice here: fuzzed out percussion, horn riffs discombobulated by reverb and modest EQ FX, everything totally goofy-sounding in the way the song was probably intended. “Barrel Roll” is an edit of Haircut 100’s “Evil Smokestacking Baby,” a schmaltzy midtempo “roll the credits”-type power-jangleI guesshere further overblown.

White Label / COW 3
[Nick Sylvester]

February 23, 2007

Various Artists / Pilooski - Dark and Lovely Vol. 5


It seems that the ancient tradition of the re-edit is nowadays as much in vogue as it was during disco’s heydayperhaps even more so. Disco and boogie revivalists and old-schoolers Dimitri, Danny Krivit, and Greg Wilson have been hacking at it for ages, and now it seems everybody’s giving the old girl a spin. Just who Pilooski is, I couldn’t tell youaccording to his discogs profile he eats feathers and is at least somewhat out of his gourd. Either way, these edits are damn well dirty enough for any kind of fetish to be perfectly alright with me. And not dirty in the Princess Superstar sensethese are some scratchy old joints exuding freakdom from their pores.

First up is Jackson Jones’ “I Feel Good,” which disco-raps its way into your heart with a frenetic slap-happiness, combining wobbly-arse percussion, walking bass and weird string samples, bringing the funk in all three ways. Then things go straight prog on you”Kismet” is a re-edit of an Amon Duul II track (!) of space-folk-ethnic-jazz-rock meanderings, an invocation that mingles the spacy with the surreal. You could try dancing to it, but I would recommend avoiding the brown acid if you do. I think my brain finally went beyond the pale upon the arrival of “Glastonbury,” which is billed as a “Dirty Reissue.” Whatever that means, I call it Vertigo Records-style white funk drumming with a chorus of acid-folk casualties singing from the hippie hymnal. By which I mean go out, buy this, and turn on, man.

Dirty Edits / DLL005
[Mallory ODonnell]

February 9, 2007

Beatzcast #18: Michael F. Gill

Mixes2007DiscoR & B

I recently picked up a bizarre, very bootleg-ish compilation of 80s Canadian funk and dancefloor R&B called Funk & Boogie from the Great White North. Unfortunately, most of it, filled with clunky synthetic drums/bass and primitive Fairlight/DX7-style synthesizers, has not dated well at all. Yet there is something endearingly weird about these tracks, as they were trying to follow the poppier footsteps of Jam & Lewis while still having a foot in the post-disco club scene, all on a very minimal budget. I decided to make a mini-mix to showcase some of these oddities, the majority of which I could find nothing about (not even a Discogs listing).

I do know that all of the tracks come from the Musicworks and Street Level imprints, two labels in the early 80s that were based in Montreal, although did a lot of recording in Philadelphia with prolific disco engineer/producer Herb Powers. As for the artists, James Carmichael is likely the same singer who once headed the group Instant Funk (of I Got My Mind Made Up fame), Kim Covington was a New Jersey soul/theater singer who now lives and records in Paris, and the Little Dabs were the two children (aged 4 and 6) of the drummer from the group Gypsy Lane, who did all the music for the Village People. Speaking of the Dabs, their Spielberg-inspired single E.T. (Every Time) was a big enough hit in Canada that it got European distribution through the Belgium label BMC. I sadly know little about Jahmilla, Tara Laine, Jacki, or Dee Dee T, but the Jahmilla record did get European distribution through the Dutch label Rams Horns. To close this mix off, theres Mac Macs male answer/response track to Lisa Lisas freestyle hit I Wonder If I Take You Home, produced by someone called Grandmaster Cash. Hope you enjoy
[Michael F. Gill]

Montreal Misfits
01: James Carmichael - All Of My Love [Expansion/Musicworks]
02: Jahmilla - Pillow Talk [Street Level, 1985]
03: Tara Laine - You Made Me Believe [Street Level]
04: The Little Dabs - E.T. (Every Time) [Musicworks, 1982]
05: Kim Covington - All Of My Love [Street Level, 1983]
06: Dee Dee T - We’ve Got All Night [Unknown]
07: Jacki - Don’t Break My Heart [Unknown]
08: Mac Mac & Jamalot Kingdom - Let Me Take You Home (Lisa Lisa) [Musicworks, 1985]

January 19, 2007

Escort - A Bright New Life


As with their last two twelves, one of which was Beatzs #1 of 2006, this ones just too well done to deny. On the a-side, Singer Zena Kitt dwells on various personal uncertainties in the verse over a spare synth octave thump and rich, long strings, but when the chorus approaches its like every sound starts getting really cagey, and when it finally does come the empty space is filled with cheeky chicken-scratch guitars, a healthy dose of horn stabs, and (naturally) a bri-yut newww li-i-ife. The songwritings smart, the stylized diction is perfect, the instrumental buildups and breakdowns are taut, no notes out of place, no smirks in sight. Just awesome. For his remix, Morgan Geist subdues everythingeven the volume is lowerand after a new bassline and lots more space and just enough reverb, weve got something of a Metro Area track, the instruments taking turns soloing in the lime.

Escort Recordings / ESCRT-003
[Nick Sylvester]

December 22, 2006

2006: The Year In Review

Welcome to the Beatz By The Pound year-end roundup for 2006, a veritable smorgasbord of lists, thoughts, and reflections about the current state of dance music. And while all of our writers handed in very diverse ballots, we were able to come to a consensus on a couple of key releases, producers, and labels. Let the madness begin


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