Alan Braxe and Friends
The Upper Cuts
lan Braxe was half of Stardust, alongside Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter. Stardust, of course, gave us 1998’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” which may well be the greatest single of all time. That alone would be enough to give Braxe godlike genius status, but that was where he was just getting started. The new compilation The Upper Cuts (available as an import on Play It Again Sam) compiles singles Braxe has released under a variety of guises over the past 8 years, including as a solo artist (his first single, “Vertigo”), in collaboration with Fred Falke (the most frequent peanut butter to Braxe’s jelly), as half of The Paradise (“In Love With You,” made with Romauld), under the alias Rec (“Link’n’Rings”), and as half of Stardust, along with his famous remix of Shakedown’s “At Night.” And you know what? There’s barely a pleasureless moment to be found here.
“Music Sounds Better” is the 500-pound gorilla on the album, so let’s start there. Based around that looped guitar riff (sampled from Chaka Khan’s late-‘70s minor classic “Fate”) and featuring Benjamin Diamond on vocals, it’s the world-beater that hit #2 in the U.K. and topped dancefloor charts across the globe. Its brilliance is in its (seeming) simplicity, but it’s the joie de vivre that gets it over—that and, perhaps, those symphonic stabs in the mix. This record is the epitome of effective.
Bassist Fred Falke partners with Braxe on seven of this album’s twelve tracks, and each slams in its own way. Opener “Most Wanted” could almost be a year 2000 collaboration by Giorgio Moroder and Michael Sembello (the track is actually from 2000), with its Knight Rider-ish keyboard progressions laid atop some Kraftwerk-in-Provence chords, never relenting, never surrendering. Their first record together, “Intro,” samples a lighter-than-air vocal riff from an ‘80s R&B; record (maybe S.O.S. Band, I’m not quite certain), which is set upon a body-rockin’ Jane Fonda-in-a-leotard bassline and dressed with some pop-and-lock’d percussive maneuvers. “Arena” is all crowd noise, synth drums, and a keyb solo that might’ve been played by Eddie Van Halen for 1984 (but, alas, wasn’t).
“Palladium” whooshes and swerves around you on gossamer wings, like a Millennium Falcon powered by fancy souped-up synthesizers, and then there’s “Rubicon,” which was my #3 single of 2004. I called it “house for indie fans” in my year-end wrap, and I stand by that, though it’s more like “Rock Lobster” given an instrumental throbbing-house makeover en Français.
Braxe’s remix of Shakedown’s “At Night” throbs too, like an honest-to-goodness Donna Summer record sung by a really white girl. Rec’s “Link’n’Rings” is the one misstep here, a faux Latyrx track way too late; Alan, please stick with what you know and do so well. Typically, Braxe does just that, which is why this collection of (most of) his work up until now succeeds so smashingly. Even moreso than his old pal Bangalter, no one is making such inventive, so perfect, such backward-looking and forward-thinking house records as Braxe these days. No one.