DFA Compilation #2
hen production team and record label The DFA released their first compilation in September of 2003, it was sort of like a No New York for the 00s (much more so, ironically, than the concurrently released Yes New York compilation). Like No New York, it was a snapshot of a musical moment in time, at the very height of a movement—in The DFA’s case, the movement was discopunk. Also like No New York, four bands were featured with multiple songs, and two of those—The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem—were the genre’s flagship acts.
Well, now it’s 2004, and though it’s merely a year after the first compilation was released, times have changed considerably. Discopunk’s moment in the sun has almost entirely passed and all the banner acts are getting the hell out—Radio 4 went 80s, !!! got all jammy on us, and Liars…well, no one knows exactly what they were doing with They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, but it certainly wasn’t discopunk. So now it’s on The DFA and their headliner acts to prove that they’re not going down with the ship that they largely helmed for the last couple years. And with their second compilation, they do exactly that.
The only complaints that really could be levied at the first compilation—the number of songs (a mere eight) and their previously ready availability—are remedied by Compilation #2. At three discs and over twenty non-album songs (many of which are previously unreleased even on 12”), there is absolutely no shortage of material, and even hardcore fans who have kept up with everything the DFA have done until now will be privy to a moment of revelation or two. What’s more, the compilation contains only one previously established classic (LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah”, possibly the best single of ’04), and otherwise places the spotlight on b-sides, dub versions, remixes and a-sides from new acts like Pixeltan, Black Leotard Front and J.O.Y.
And, with the exception of the three LCD Soundsystem tracks and perhaps the Pixeltan a-side “Get Up / Say What (DFA Remix)”, discopunk is largely nowhere to be found. Even the first track, Black Leotard Front’s “Casual Friday”, whose disco beat and propulsive, “Yeah”-like chants originally scream discopunk, eventually reveals itself with its fifteen-minute length to be more in league with Giorgio Moroder’s 12”s from the mid-70s than with Gang of Four or PiL. Though many of these songs still rock like “House of Jealous Lovers” and groove like “You Can’t Have it Both Ways,” they take those impulses in totally different directions, away from what was probably an enticing offer to recycle rather than innovate.
Rather, The DFA have started to mine the entire history of dance music, from the post-punk pogo of J.O.Y.’s “Sunplus” to the bleep-and-bass of Juan McLean’s “I Robot,” to the ambient noise of eYe’s remix of Black Dice’s “Endless Happiness”. The DFA’s remix of Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom’s “Rise” manages to out retro-electro Rex the Dog, and their “El Monte” is the most abstract work the group has done to date. Even The Rapture are caught at two decidedly uncharacteristic moments—the bubbling synth-pop of their “Sister Saviour” DFA dub and the chaotic but gorgeous guitar frenzy of b-side “Alabama Sunshine”. And tellingly, the most unique sounding song on the compilation comes from history makers Liquid Liquid, perhaps providing the true gem of the collection with “Bellhead”, their first new song in decades.
LCD Soundsystem, with their four contributions, still sound like the greatest discopunk act on the planet—“Yeah”, released at the very beginning of this year, sounds as excellent nearly a year later, and the inclusion of their beloved “Losing My Edge” flipside “Beat Connection” finally puts to rest qualms about its exclusion on Comp #1. But if Compilation #2 reveals one thing, it’s that Juan MacLean is the DFA’s secret weapon. He hasn’t yet come out with a stone classic like “House of Jealous Lovers” or “Losing My Edge” (though Comp #1’s “You Can’t Have it Both Ways” comes close), but he’s consistently reliable to put out some extremely fascinating and compelling music. His four songs on here are as different from each other as they are from anything else on the compilation, and each one is fabulous. If his debut LP, I Robot, makes it out before the end of the year, watch out for it to be a sleeper candidate on best-of lists across the board.
The third disc of the compilation is a mix CD in the style of their Dance to the Underground! and Colette No. 5 mixes, the only difference being that this CD is culled exclusively from the DFA’s material. Most of the songs are repeats of songs on the first two discs—The Rapture, The Juan MacLean and LCD Soundsystem all get a bonus track, but none are featured very prominently in the mix. The DFA still are a bit rocky as DJs—some transitions are rough and the inclusion of the beatless, hookless “El Monte” is slightly perplexing—but there are also occasional moments of inspired mixing, and it’s an engaging listen.
Discopunk is done. It had a good run, but a lack of excellent LPs and an even greater lack of competition for the DFA’s throne ultimately strands the trend as a fad, and not the paradigm-shifting movement some were anticipating. The Rapture have left the DFA, and LCD Soundsystem’s new single (“Movement,” released next week) is more Mark E. Smith than ESG. But when The DFA can shine so brightly outside of the genre, it’s hard and unnecessary to weep for its death. The best may be yet to come.