A remix can be a scary thing, especially if it's a song you know and love. Unless you're familiar with the remixers, you just never know -- and even then it can be hit or miss. Fortunately for us, Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy of the DFA uphold a standard of quality with the remixes on Chapter One, and they don't butcher the original to get there.
The album pulls together nine of the production duo's tracks from the last five years, all remixes and very little in throwaways. You've probably heard most of the originals before: tracks from Gorillaz, the Chemical Brothers, Fischerspooner, Le Tigre are included. Chapter Two is scheduled to be released later this summer with remixes of Junior Senior, Nine Inch Nails, Goldfrapp, and several other well-liked groups. It's no coincidence that those are all your favorite bands (at least they were a few years ago): The best thing the DFA has going for it is the range and quality of songs it has worked on. Goldsworthy and Murphy are not musical alchemists trying to turn sour milk into liquid gold. They remix music that's good to start with, and they really don't have to work that hard at it, either.
Dance punk, the niche that provides most of the material for their musical tinkering, is not, as you may have noticed, terribly different from disco or house. So, although the DFA's remix of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon" is an extended house mix with some funky bass line and disco high hat, it didn't take much imagination to get it there. But they did ramp down the BPM -- and with it a bit of the energy -- to fit it into the format, a decision I'm not sure is ever a step in the right direction. But the remix still sounds fun, and it's undoubtedly easier for deejays to mix into.
The album's press materials claim that Janet and Britney were banging on the door to get done-over by the DFA, but they snubbed them to maintain "their relevance, influence and dominance" in the production game. (This doesn't explain why they chose to remix Mariah Carey, but I won't harp on that.) Even when it's not the most innovative, the sounds they use are fresh, and the duo tends to eschew hooks and conventional structure for letting the song slowly evolve. The remix of Blues Explosion's "Mars, Arizona" is the album's most exciting track. Discordant piano, jangle-y guitar, continually morphing electro beats and Jon Spencer's energetic wailing come together for nearly eleven minutes of organized frenzy.
But not all of the tracks came out so well; for some reason, they decided to suck all the bass and kick out of Gorillaz's "Dare," a song that is all about the bass and the kick. By the time the DFA's remix gets stirring, its repetitive buzzing and understated rhythm have nearly lost my interest. The song redeems itself toward the end, when all pretenses of a remix drop away and it moves into some of the album's most interesting sonic experiments.
So, the members of the DFA live and die by their song selection. It would be hard to go wrong remixing upbeat, rhythm-heavy music that people already like, but then again they can't take too much latitude in messing with the song, or they might have some angry villagers on their hands. They keep a stable of innovative musical acts to draw from in the form of their label, DFA Records (in cooperation with Astralwerks), which has released albums by such bands as Black Dice, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and the Rapture -- each of which has really tried to steer music in a new direction with success that has overshadowed the DFA's production efforts. Even if Goldsworthy and Murphy aren't the most inventive producers, their involvement with independent music and their careful remixes let me know I can trust the DFA to handle my favorite songs with care.
DFA Web site