The conceit of the Dirtbombs covering dance music is genius. The field of music is increasingly referenced in contemporary pop yet hardly understood in the mainstream sense (sadly, Pauly D is perhaps the celebrity du jour with an opportunity to shine some light for the masses — assuming he’s not busy fucking a tangerine). The ’80s “heck-no-to-techno” mindset makes increasingly less sense today as synths, drum machines and electronics dominate our sonic sound-scape. That a meat-and-potatoes rawk band like the Dirtbombs conceived the project is appropriate. The group hearkens a past sound, but its outlook is current and progressive. The multi-ethnic band has drawn on a variety of influences — sweet Motown melodies, Alan Vega’s medicated fist-pumping, intellectual cardio of Sparks — while consistently drawing them through dive-y sieve. The band’s roots in Detroit, one of the main hubs of both electronic music and garage rock, makes the resulting album Party Store feel then like an un-breaking of the circle.
The highlights of the album occur when the band sticks to what it does best: rock out. Bandleader Mick Collins and his motley crew seemingly found a new muse in Cybotron by covering two of the electro group’s songs with aplomb. Both “Cosmic Cars” and “Alleys of Your Mind” were anxiety bombs set to a dance beat. The Dirtbombs retain the nerves while opening up the arrangements for the band to slash away. The results are still creepy, yet no longer cold and synthetic. Instead these two versions feel like warm sacks swaggering under the weight of damp black leather and swill liquor.
Fortunately, the results are more often hit than miss. The album’s centerpiece is a 20-plus-minute version of Carl Craig/Innerzone Orchestra’s “Bug in the Bassbin” (Carl Craig reportedly contributed to the album, but at the time of writing it is unclear on which tracks and in what capacity). The downtempo beauty has its tortured psyche pulled out and amplified. The result transforms from cool and sleek into sloppy and harsh, like Funkadelic on a bad trip. Yet the band retains and expands on the tension-and-release dynamics running throughout the original.
Admittedly Party Store also deserves comparisons to the entire industry of dance-rock acts. The pulsing disco beat and echoing guitars of “Jaguar” and “Sharevari” are sonic kin to !!! and the Rapture. These qualities are not bad — they are just too familiar at this point. Fortunately, the record only has brief moments of genuine awkwardness, particularly when the band embraces too many of the qualities of the original records. On one hand, it does a sterling job of reproducing the drum patterns and breaks of Rhythim is Rhythim/Derrick May’s “Strings Of Life.” Yet the energy ebbs and flows in an inconsistent way that sounds as if the group were uncomfortable working this particular groove for over six minutes. While expanding on the form of “Bug in the Bassbin” worked, this is a case where sticking with the band’s concise approach could have been helpful.
For the band Party Store poses an interesting crossroads. It is the Dirtbombs’ fifth full-length (its previous album was 2008’s We Have You Surrounded), but also its second covers record. Frankly the group handles its own and others’ material with equal faculty, so it can go in either direction with surefire results. However, the band’s previous covers effort, 2001’s Ultraglide in Black, now sounds traditional with its brute takes on delicate soul and stank funk. That version of Marvin Gaye’s disco classic “Got To Give It Up” mirrored Party Store‘s exploration of longer-form dance-floor grooves, but it ultimately stuck to the four-minute single version over the twelve-minute-plus LP version. Here’s hoping for more tripped-out parties.