Friday, October 5, 2007

Shocking Stink

As remixers, DFA (James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy) are pretty much untouchable. Their remixes of Goldfrapp's "Slide In," Unkle's "In a State," Chromeo's "Destination Overdrive", and Tiga's "Far from Home" on the vinyl version of "DFA Remixes Chapter. 2" are easily the best of their kind. A DFA remix (with the exception of their half-assed reworking of Justin Timberlake's "My Love") is pretty much a guarantee of quality. As well, their roster (The Juan McLean, Hot Chip, Gavin and Russom, Black Dice, LCD Soundsystem) is amazing for not only its diversity but its consistency.

So why'd they sign Shocking Pinks?

After reading this review, I was pretty much sold on the Shocking Pinks first album for DFA.Describing the album as containing "scruffy Jesus and Mary Chain dream-pop, ecstatic My Bloody Valentine haze, droning C-86 confessionals, and bedroom New Order bass lines" appealed to the geek in me in a way that now I'm not too proud of. Turns out the JAMC dream-pop is extra scruffy, the My Bloody Valentine "haze" sounds a lot like a cheap synth pad buried deep in the mix, and the New Order bass lines need to be turned up, oh, I don't know, six or seven notches to actually be New Order bass lines. Only the "droning C-86 confessionals" is dead on because, firstly, droning is the only way to describe Nick Harte's (Shocking Pinks frontman and only member) vocal style, and secondly, only on cheap 80s mix tapes by twee English teenagers can I imagine music so poorly mixed and amateurish.

But maybe that's unfair. After all, C-86 bands like Tallulah Gosh and The Field Mice actually wrote a lot of catchy songs, something Nick Harte can't do to save his life. I could have forgiven all of his flaws--the buried, half spoken vocals, the drums constantly mixed into just one channel (oh, did I forget to mention that?), the aforementioned cheap synth pads--if the album had at least a handful of catchy songs. Instead, Harte uses my favorite indie-rock trick of singing half the lyrics, playing a bridge, than singing the rest and playing the bridge again before fade out. I swear, only "musicians" do this, because amateurs are too focused on just writing a song poppy enough to hide their inability. Harte used to be the drummer for The Brunettes, an insufferably cute indie-pop band from New Zealand, so I don't think he completely lacks musical talent, but his songwriting is so lazy and half-assed it's hard not to think he should stick to banging on drums (Decide for yourself: here are links to songs here, here, and here.)

I think maybe DFA is a little pissed off at their success and are trying to throw curveballs at their audience. Their other new signing, Prinzhorn Dance School, is an ultra minimalist art punk band that wouldn't really blow the mind of someone looking for another Hot Chip. As music nerds, I think they're resentful that fans are pigeonholing them as a dance music label, and a "slick" one at that. On a certain level, I totally sympathize. DFA represent a sensibility, not a sound, and making only "good" music is a quick path to mediocrity. But there is a fine line between music that's difficult but ultimately engaging and lazy stuff like the Shocking Pinks record. DFA remains bulletproof, but they won't be for long if they keep releasing stuff this bad..