The Free Design
The Now Sound Redesigned
Light In the Attic
he Free Design were a Greenwich Village combo comprised of a pair of brothers and two of their sisters, who released seven albums of lightly psychedelic, pretty pop between 1967 and 1972, all to little sales, before seemingly disappearing. Fast-forward over 30 years, by which point DJs and beat junkies the world over had selectively begun to rediscover the Dedrick family’s work. According to The Now Sound Redesigned’s liner notes, the folks behind the Light in the Attic record label subsequently had a Los Angeles dinner with famed DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, where they “collectively birthed the idea of bringing the Free Design’s music into the 21st century.”
A fine assortment of indie (and a few indie-minded) folks have remixed/remade/reupholstered the Free Design’s work on The Now Sound Forever, from the likes of PBW himself to Super Furry Animals, largely to sterling results. The tandem of Belle & Sebastian’s Chris Geddes and Hush Puppy preserve the Free Design’s lush vocal harmonies on “2002 – A Hit Song,” adding a beefed-up snare drum and some individual instrumental elements to illustrate the song’s lyrics, which concern making a hit song (“take a little drums” gets some jazz skin-hitting, while “add a little bass” is accented with a splash of electro bass, et cetera). The second half of the remix pairs a hurry-curry bassline and 4/4 beat with some keyboard squelches and a looped/filtered line of vocals to fine effect.
Others add vocals to the source material, such as Styrofoam, who gets Sarah Shannon to augment “I Found Love” with her own singing while he lays on the heavy guitar lines. Unfortunately, Shannon’s Cat Power-as-a-choirgirl vox detracts, rather than complementing the song. Koushik fares much better, recruiting Dudley Perkins to rap atop “Don’t Cry Baby” (largely just recutting the vocals in his own image, adding occasional asides of his own). The mix isn’t particularly inspiring, with beefed-up drums and some “Space Invaders” f/x Koushik’s main contributions, but it bops along nicely enough. Most notable of the vocals-added mixes is Danger Mouse’s beats-heavy take “To A Black Boy,” juiced with a great rap from Murs about a recent Georgia court case in which an African-American teenager was charged with rape for having consensual sex with his Caucasian girlfriend.
Mellow plays up the chamber-pop aspects of “Kites Are Fun,” while Stereolab & the High Llamas combined parts of “5 or 6 tracks at once” (Sean O’Hagan, from the liner notes) for their mélange, “Harve Daley Hix” (a rather lovely psych-pop stew, bubbling over with all kinds of tasty smells). Nobody, who sequenced and edited the album, along with providing interludes, gives a great take on “Girls Alone,” wherein he heavily loops up the original, adding keyboards and “additional ill shit” from Mars Volta’s Ikey Owens. A slab of “The Proper Ornaments” is included in “Harve Daley Hix,” but it’s given its own treatment by Super Furry Animals, who unsurprisingly pile layers of guitar fuzz on top of it and end up with the mix most sounding like it could’ve come from an original Free Design album.
I wish that someone had taken on the Free Design’s cover of “Light My Fire,” which is left for one of Nobody’s interludes (and sounds delicious, amazing vocals paired with an arrangement so easy-listening it makes Jose Feliciano’s sound hardcore). It precedes the album’s closing track, Caribou’s jaw-dropping 8:45 remix of “Dorian Benediction.” This one’s larded with all sorts of tinkly production (like a small army of wind chimes hanging in a forest), odd woodwinds, and a slightly off-kilter rhythm that sounds just barely off the beat. It comes off like one of the early ‘90s crusty rave tracks (Banco de Gaia, perhaps?) done entirely organically – and thanks to its source material, much more interesting as well.
The highest compliment I can give this album? Not only is nearly every track on The Now Sound Redesigned compelling in its own right, collectively they serve to make me eager to seek out the Free Design’s original records. (More information is available from Light in the Attic’s website.) This record is a success on almost every level, and deserves to be seen as on of 2005’s highlights, rather than as one of the year’s hidden treasures. Sadly, the latter is more likely, but that shouldn’t keep you from discovering it yourself. The Now Sound Redesigned is the epitome of a great remix album.
Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep
Reviewed on: 2005-08-26