Various Artists, DFA Compilation #2

3 Stars

Released in November 2004, DFA Compilation #2 opens itself to the paranoid criticism of its times. Something must be happening in Manhattan if a label compilation featuring the Black Dice, one of the most creative musical projects in wartime America, advertises itself through the channels of the independent journalism network and shows its face in Illinois. The conspiracy-prone listener must question the purpose of a slickly marketed New York City underground artifact showing up in the hibernating Middle West.

The artifact in question, 18 tracks by label artists distributed throughout three CDs, collects and distributes the 2004 vinyl-only releases of the Death From Above production team James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy. The DFA attempt to promote pieces of a segmented New York sound featuring enough sound modulation, distortion and effective beats to balance, and eventually overpower, occasionally redundant art-school vocals. Black Leotard Front’s repetitive “Casual Friday” abuses the aforementioned artistic contributions for the sometimes-leotarded performance group to stretch a boring piece of electroclash into 15 minutes and disc one.

This production choice turns first impressions against the compilation and stirs the old New York City versus Chicago artistic tension. Track two, J.O.Y.’s “Sunplus” remix by the DFA, immediately eases such unnecessary criticism with a lighthearted moment in the apocalyptic dance party of our waking 21st-century nightmare by utilizing a postmodern simplicity to inspire cautious and ever-improving head bopping. The elements of the compilation continue from this wink at the listener to create a careful balance of minimal and not-so-minimal melodies, extended synth looping, beats and break-beats, aspiring to push the limits of exploration in whatever genre this might be labeled these days.

These uncertain times of independent insurgency against the marketing, production and airplay domination of corporate control demand a model for action as well as a soundtrack with some integrity, and what becomes of the compilation serves this dual purpose. In the modest cardboard packaging’s home-office press release, the label considers itself in the third person, “They are independent, self-contained and good at getting it done … although they’re pretty good at talking about it too.” “It” appears to be the sincere effort to facilitate the production of artists and friends sharing a similar vision with the possibility of what a dance-punk matrix could indeed be.

Pixeltan’s “Get Up/Say What” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah” in various incarnations demonstrate this possibility of what is to be done in the public and private spaces of this country with the angry, the misrepresented and the desperately wanting to dance. Remixes of Black Dice releases “Endless Happiness” and “Wasterder,” from the abruptly halted recent room-clearing tour, lend an authentic air of progress to the questionable choices in the progression of the release. The limited stable of DFA artists outshines the inclusion of two UK-only tracks from the since-departed Rapture, kicking out the rungs of ascension, having apparently traded up. The questionable and unmentioned are, however, consistently outperformed by the contributions of additional artists Juan MacLean, Delia R.Gonzalez, Gavin R. Russom and a rerecorded Liquid Liquid, with each listen.

Disc three, mixed by Goldsworthy and Tim Sweeny, conclusively pulls the project together with movement and direction, extending an invitation towards the intelligent listener to consider the offerings of today as the yet-uncombined pieces of the complicated, layered and interesting music of the uncertain future.

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