t's a little late to be writing about Nite Versions. It was technically released in Europe in December of 2005, and, though it's only out now in the U.S., most of the people in the States who care about this album have already heard it: bloggers downloaded it and DJ's and electronic buffs paid the pricey import tag. So if it's not really “new,” why write about it now?
Because nine months after first hearing Nite Versions, it still stands up to the first time that it was bumping at a Brussels nightclub, or rocking the crowd at a hipster New Year's party, or wading in the background of an MTV commercial, or simply playing all the way through on an iPod. It goes without saying that it's the best thing that Soulwax have done yet. 2manyDJs consists of only two of the five members of the band, so those mixes don't really count—and it blows the Pampers off Any Minute Now, the supposedly “rock” album which Nite Versions remixes.
It opens with "Teachers," a cover of the fun little Daft Punk aside on Homework, where Guy and Thomas dropped shout-outs to their electronic forefathers. On Soulwax's version, instead of hollerin' at DJs, they go at rock stars, listing AC/DC, ELO, Cheap Trick, Killing Joke, Black Sabbath, Canned Heat, and even The Small Faces. Daft Punk’s version was a put-on, a limber, campy diversion from the steady flow of hypnotic hard house that was the basis of the album. Soulwax, on the other hand, completely transform it from an interlude into a proclamation. They turn the drums up to 11, drop a slashed guitar lick that sounds like it was cut out of a ZZ Top song, and in place of the squelching bass of the original, they insert one that’s more Steve Albini than George Clinton.
Nite Versions is made with primarily electronic instruments, and it both dances harder and rocks harder than its blueprint. Rather than focus on the volume of their guitars, they rightly spotlight the volume and momentum of their rhythm section. Furthermore, 2manyDJs mix the entire album, so that each song runs into another similar to a DJ set. Songs flow into each other naturally; but some of the more upbeat songs are followed by mid-level bangers, and other such unusual choices make perfect sense even thought they don't make any sense at all (kind of like their own mashup DJ mixes). Any Minute Now tried to make rock dance. Nite Versions simply tries to make you dance, and in doing so makes dance rock.
Rock and dance do share a remarkable number of similarities, anyway: reliance on rhythm, the emphasis of the buildup during the middle section, and the ability to create catharsis at the climactic breakdown. On "Compute," an easy banger in the middle, a chiming keyboard pattern gains more and more echo until it smelts into a giant buzzing keyboard. The drums drop, laptop static builds up, and then a drum fill comes crashing in and it goes right back into the same keyboard breakdown minus the reverb. That's as much from "You Made Me Realise" as it is from "Aerodynamic," but it's near impossible to figure out from which one Soulwax took their inspiration.
Soulwax clearly put much more thought into Nite Versions than they did into Any Minute Now, and that's the biggest reason why this still plays at an East Village bar nine months down the line. The last two songs are "NY Lipps" (a mash-up of "NY Excuse" and Lipps' "Funkytown") and the DFA remix of "Another Excuse." They're a perfect conclusion—representing Nite Versions' philosophy that dance and rock don't coexist because of the instruments, the style, and the drugs. They do because they both share a common ancestry, where the cowbell on "Funkytown" is more than just a disco ornament, but the ticket to spastic limb twitches and rhythmic Valhalla.
Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2006-09-15