This Remix is for the Clubs

September 24, 2008

There’s a difference between a remix, and a remix album. While a remix is essentially, a stand-alone track, a remix album bears the weight of the title ‘album’. It is more than just a collection of tracks beefed up with club beats; it’s a group of songs under the same banner. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new LP. Or is it? Jennifer Lopez made chart history in 2004 when the remix of her J.Lo album (J to tha’ L.O.) became the first remix album to debut at number one in the Billboard 200 albums. The album featured many of Murder Inc.’s heavyweights, like Ja Rule, Fat Joe and P.Diddy. One of the reasons that the album did so well is that unlike records previous, many of the tracks became totally new songs, not just extended club remixes. In 1987, Madonna released You Can Dance, a ‘concept’ remix album. In keeping with the vogue of the time, it was more of a re-edit of some of her tracks for the clubs than anything else. Tracks 1-4 and 5-7 on the album were edited together in order to resemble a DJ’s set, and the album contained one original new track. While the album didn’t fare exceptionally well commercially, it inspired other artists to release remix albums themselves. Ten years later, Michael Jackson’s 1997 record Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix became the best selling remix album of all time. Remix albums remain popular to this day. Super Extra Bonus Party recently announced their plans to remix their debut self-titled album, and Simian Mobile Disco’s Sample and Hold (a remix of Attack Decay Sustain Release) has received rave reviews. However, what are the criteria for a good remix album?

Should it pick and choose the best bits of a record, creating a new, entirely stand-alone album? Jay-Z released an a cappella version of his 2003 The Black Album, in order to make remixes and mashups easier. While only one ‘official’ remix album was made- Collision Course which mashed together Linkin Park tracks with Jay-Z’s vocals- the a cappella tracks gave a free reign to producers and aspiring remixers. The first of these unofficial remixes was producer/rapper Kev Brown’s The Brown Album (2004) which refocused Jay-Z’s club-driven vocals into a smoother, mellower direction. Hot on the heels of The Brown Album came uber-producer Dangermouse’s The Grey Album (2004). The Grey Album mixed the vocals of The Black Album with various unauthorized samples from the Beatles’ The White Album. The Grey Album melded together the best of rock and roll, with the best of rap and the best of modern production. Without heavy beats to cover it, Jay-Z’s lyrical dexterity shone through. Out of context, the Beatles’s samples sounded fresh and bang-up-to-date. Dangermouse’s disregard for musical boundaries resulted in the best album of 2004. Not only that, but it opened the door for further (unofficial) remix opportunites for Jay-Z, and others- including Weezer, Prince, and Pavement.

Should it become an alternate version of the album, by an alternate version of the group? Silent Alarm Remixed is still a Bloc Party album, but it’s an album by a different Bloc Party. Silent Alarm Remixed lives in a binary with Silent Alarm. They are polar opposites. The track for track remixes break down, then awkwardly rebuild, what made the original album so satisfying the first time around. In place of consummate professionals, lining up hooks and slick finishes, we find unsure vocals, and minuscule details illuminated. Four Tet’s remix of ‘So Here We Are’ de-layers the track, showcasing the clever structure hidden beneath Paul Epworth’s stereo-sound production. M83’s remix of ‘The Pioneers’ accentuates the glorious crescendo at the end of the track, and in doing so, its latent romanticism.

Should it, like a decent cover version, retain something of the re-mixer, while still paying tribute to the original? Grizzly Bear re-released their 2004 debut album- Horn of Plenty- a year later with an extra cd of remixes by friends, such as Ariel Pink, Simon Bookish and Final Fantasy. Grizzly Bear are known for their pedal notes, brooding lyrics and repetitive, spider-thin melody lines. The remixes not only fleshed out (and in some cases, funked up) the tracks, they sometimes brought them to an entirely different place. Drew Daniel (Soft Pink Truth) said, ‘I prefer to do remixes when I think there’s some kind of interesting tension between my way of working and the song being remixed, and I only remix music I like: so this was hand in glove.’ In fact, while every remix on the album re-arranges the original tracks significantly, the essence of the original remains- only under a different light than before. In keeping with this, Soft Pink Truth’s remix of “A Good Place” throws in bass-orientated rhythms, underwater vocals and horn samples- all the while drawing attention to the song’s “blow by blow” lyric. Simon Bookish’s version of ‘Eavesdropping’ takes the original track and morphs it into one of his own, complete with an added verse. Safety Scissors uncovers Christopher Bear’s ear for a fine pop melody in their remix of ‘La Duchesse Anne’.
(This is a link to the original, btw, I couldn’t find a remix version on Youtube)

In the case of Horn of Plenty, Grizzly Bear win out in the great remix debate. Unlike The Grey Album, all the material is used. Unlike Silent Alarm- Remixed, it’s still very recognisably an album by the same band. Horn of Plenty really is a cornucopia. The original Horn of Plenty and the remixed Horn of Plenty can sit alongside each other, both containing the same songs under a different campfire-light focus, neither one superior nor inferior, just different.

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5 Responses to “This Remix is for the Clubs”

  1. emma said

    ah finally i’ve found you!! i added you to my blog roll 🙂

  2. bluebirdsaresonatural said

    haha, no more lurking i promise. will blogroll you now…

  3. Ciaran said

    In my youth, you’d get a full remix album on side two of the tape of whatever album you’d bought. The Thompson Twins’ “Into The Gap” was great in that regard. In 1982 The Human League’s prodcuer Martin Rushent – with the group’s permission – took the tapes from their mega-massive “Dare” album and spliced them up into something called “Love and Dancing”, and released it under the name League Unlimited Orchestra. “Dare” and “Love and Dancing” are like orphan twins – it ought to be a crime to split them up, and they should be welcome in any civilised home.

  4. canweplaydressup said

    beautifully written…….and i couldn’t agree with you more on silent alarm remix. anti-climax! 😦 shame

    alan x

  5. bluebirdsaresonatural said

    Oh, I wouldn’t say anti-climax. Just different is all. As an album it didn’t stand up to the original, but as a series of remixes, there were some quality ones, for sure.

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