Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top Eleven Remixes of the 00's

I considered making a list of my favourite songs of the 00's, but it was a non-starter. The root of the problem was this: a "best tracks" list that is full of album tracks is boring. It's just a "best albums" list that is bent into a slightly different form. And one's favourite tracks *should* be mostly composed of album tracks, because for the most part, the best albums feature all the best songs. Naturally, there are exceptions such as TATU, who released some of the most brilliant singles of the decade but made extremely patchy albums. But without multiple TATU's and a slate of one hit wonders (which are also rarer these days), the "best tracks" list would be mostly made up of songs from the same bands on the "best albums" list, which is a bit ridiculous because there's certainly no need to essentially compile the same list twice. What could be more boring than reading through a "best tracks" list that consists of someone's favourite album tracks?

Of course, a "best tracks" list should be first and foremost a "best singles" list, thereby clearly differentiating between great albums, great singles, the artists responsible for creating both types of music. I've always tried to approach my "Top X Tracks of the Year" lists in that way, but the distinction is starting to wane I become ever more slowly estranged from the pop charts and find fewer and fewer actual singles to get excited about. I honestly haven't given much thought as to what was the best single of the decade, although if you pointed a gun at me and gave me five seconds to either choose or die, I'm picking "Silver" by Jesu. If we're talking about proper mega-hits, i.e. one inescapably massive chart single to represent the decade, I'd probably choose "Umbrella".

Remixes, on the other hand, are a different breed, a different category of "hits". They can be sort-of singles (in that the originals get played on the radio but the remixes almost always do not), they can be random tracks that were remixed and tossed onto blogs/webpages, they can be tracks that were notable enough to be pressed onto the b-side of a vinyl release. And they are definitely not album tracks. They occupy a niche of musical parameter space that is distinct from that of albums, and largely speaking, distinct from what is happening on the pop charts. (obviously I'm not referring to hip-hop remixes here, or fluke-y exceptions like "Ignition (Remix)")

Unlike ten years ago, remixes now occupy a prominent niche among my favourite songs of the past decade. Chalk it up to a glut of vinyl purchases (mainly in first half of the decade) and an overall increase in dance music listening (thx internet). A "Best Remixes of the 00's" list, even a fairly informal one, felt necessary and appropriate. So, I started listing my clear and obvious favourite remixes from the past ten years, narrowed that small shortlist down to eleven, and assembled a SPECIAL MIX that features all eleven of these amazing tracks. Since this is supposed to be a fairly stress-free exercise, the list is unranked, what follows is the tracklisting on the mix along with comments for each track. Planning the mix itself was quite the challenge though -- I put a lot of thought into the song order since many of these songs would never ordinarily find themselves lumped together in the same DJ set.

What makes for a great remix? For me, the quality of the original track is a non-factor. I'm not looking for a remixer to "save" a track by taking a crap song and converting it to greatness, although with all of these tracks, the originals (at least those that I've heard!) pale in comparison to the remixes. In short, I'm not operating by any kind of convoluted selection process, I'm just compiling a list of my favourite songs of the 00's, except that the pool of choices is narrowed down to remixes only. If, by some vague stretch of the imagination, I was making the effort to compile a top 30 or 50 or 100 "Best Tracks of the 00's" list*, all of these remixes would surely be included (although none of the originals would be)**.

* All would be in the Top 100 for sure. Most would make the Top 50. A few would be in the Top 30
** maybe "Mr Brightside"

Download the mix here!

1. Pyramids, "The Echo of Something Lovely (Jesu Remix)", Hydra Head (2008).

I've said it before, but in latter half of the decade, Jesu became the band that I always wanted Mogwai to be. In the years following "Rock Action", Mogwai deviated from the industrial sludge rock route that they appeared to be treading upon, but Jesu picked up the ball and ran with it, peaking with the massive "Silver" and this remix. Pyramids, who are capable of making astonishing shoegaze/metal hybrids of their own, decided to soften up with this dreampop-like track, as if they were moonlighting as a goth AR Kane. Jesu reshaped the lullabies on the original track and amplified them into psychedelic gothic sludge, proving that Justin Broadrick is only too happy to invent new genres of music that you didn't know you could crave.

2. Ciara, "Goodies (Richard X Remix featuring MIA)", LaFace (2004).

I caned the hell out of this track in '05, and it's still the best thing MIA was or ever will be involved with -- on this remix, she even outshines Ciara. Richard X retained the stripped-down funkiness of the original and turned out an equally sparse remix that still comes off sounding like a club banger.

3. Freiland, "Frei/Hot Love (Justus Köhncke Feat. Meloboy Mix)", Kompakt (2004).

The Kompakt 100 project was rabidly anticipated and with good reason -- two discs of Kompakt artists remixing their label brethren's most well-known tracks, a spectacular array of talent engaging in a cross-pollination exercise to celebrate the mercurial label's one hundredth release. On paper, the concept was mouth-watering, but unfortunately the results were far less than the sum of their parts and arguably signified something of a "jump the shark" moment for the label. Rather than diversifying the styles that Kompakt had become known for, or accelerating the label's creative edge further ahead of the pack, most of the remixers churned out fairly ordinary efforts, with tracks that had seemingly appeared in superior form on many earlier Kompakt releases. Rather than advancing the label forward, Kompakt 100 found them treading water, as if the label's ideas had now been summarized, anthologized, and effectively capped.

There were only two tracks from Kompakt 100 that I would always return to, and Justus Köhncke was featured in both: The Modernist's remix of the deliciously silly "Weiche Zäune", and Köhncke's equally daft and ridiculous remix/cover version of "Frei/Hot Love". It was practically outdated from the moment it was released (schaffel lol), but it's just so damned fun. Somehow, Köhncke took the Profan formula beats, which make you feel as though you're dancing on the deck of a boat that is lurching in the high seas, added a dose of "Hot Love", and ended up with something unashamedly and irresistibly pop.

4. Datach'i, "Memorandum (Mogwai Remix)", Caipirinha (2000).

My opinion of this track hasn't changed from what I wrote on ILMixOR a few years ago, so take a moment to reread that blurb. This remix preceded "Rock Action" and hinted at the inventiveness they'd display on that album. The 2000-1 period stands out as the peak of Mogwai's career, a time when they were so recklessly creative that they could effortlessly make new noise-electronica-rock hybrid genres by night and forget about them before the morning. Although they remained brilliant at times, they unfortunately spent the latter half of the decade trying to be the shoegaze Black Sabbath instead of the shoegaze NIN.

5. Rhythm and Sound with Willi Williams, "See Mi Yah (Hallucinator Remix)", Burial Mix (2006).

This remix seemed to come out of nowhere -- Hallucinator hadn't been heard from in ages but returned to remix "See Mi Yah" into a monstrous palate of echo and bass. This is what I always hoped that the long awaited/rumoured Scion and Tikiman album would sound like.

6. Shackleton, "Blood On My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos Apocolypso Now Mix)", Skull Disco (2007).

I often have pangs of doubt about the quality of this remix, which is related to the notion that Villalobos was completely half-assing here. The beat is so simple, it might as well be a Minimal Preset on a groovebox. I can picture him stapling that beat to the spooky vocal lines from the original track and proceeding to tweak filters for twenty minutes while sipping his coffee. On the other hand, the track is relentless, hypnotic, and scary as fuck. The line "when I see the towers fall ... fall ... fall", with its zombie-like delivery and spooked-out menace laid over zonked-out acid squelches, adds up to possibly the most unexpectedly great refrain of the decade (in any genre). On both sides of the coin, a collection of simple tricks done well can certainly result in something greater than the sum of their parts, which is basically minimal techno in a nutshell.

7. Ellen Allien, "Go (Marcel Dettman Remix)", BPitch Control (2007).

By mid-decade, a lot of minimal had fallen into a comfortable rut, but tracks like these symbolized a shift away from all that, as the genre stopped being all plink plonk and started to quake again. This might be the definitive Berghain track too, a record that sounds like the environment it was meant to be played in, eight minutes of horror dub, bleeding the reverberations of cold, monolithic stone slabs.

8. Pantytec, "Elastobabe (Soul Capsule's Cosmic Warrior Mix)", Perlon (2002).

On a personal level, this record was one of the most significant vinyl purchases I ever made. It completely exploded all of my preconceptions about what styles of techno I could conceivably like and profoundly influenced my future listening habits. My preferred styles were nicely pigeonholed, on one hand you had the Mills/Lekebusch-type bangers when you wanted the hard stuff, ultra-stripped down minimal or atmospheric dub techno when you wanted the softer stuff, and in between there was virtually nothing except for the odd Thomas Brinkmann record. Anything with vocals was dismissed without a second listen, nearly without exception.

On the surface, "Elastobabe" fit into that hazily defined "in between" area but there was a lot more to it than that. "Elastobabe" was ... strange. The vocals seemed to be swirling into a hidden vortex, garbling the lyrics and rendering them incomprehensible. The pulsing rhythms were infectiously danceable, but the record still had an alien, otherworldly feel to it. I had no idea what to make of the record, but knew I had to own it because it felt like one of the hardest techno tracks I'd ever heard, with enough bass to kill a small animal. In a way, I never forgave minimal techno for quieting down so much after this.

9. Motor, "Sweatbox (Chris Liebing Remix)", Novamute (2005).

Liebing stayed fiercely loyal to hard, banging techno (occasionally getting carried away into pop trance territory) even when those styles had seemingly lost their cred among all but a few music critics and fans living in Berlin. This is the one of the ultimate "more is more" tracks, with one of the most audaciously huge breakdowns ever committed to vinyl in the name of techno.

10. The Killers, "Mr Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Dub)", Island (2005).

Jacques Lu Cont/Thin White Duke remixes will turn up in plenty of "best remixes of the decade" discussions, which is a testament to Stuart Price's remarkable ability to transcend genre boundaries over the past several years. Like Ric Flair in the 80's, Price has a formula (loop secondary melody line during intro, stomping chorus, bridge, stomping chorus, stir for approx. eight minutes and serve) and could plug virtually any artist (Colplay? yes, even Coldplay) into that formula and turn out a great remix. At the time, this searing tune from the Killers seemed like an unlikely candidate for a club banger, but fast forward a few years and you have Price producing the band's third album and hardly anybody blinks, so what did I know? I specifically chose the TWD Dub Mix, which to me is head and shoulders above the more commonly praised TWD ("Club Vocal") Mix thanks to stronger, beefier beats and more selective use of the vocals. When Brandon Flowers' voice crops up to sing the anthemic chorus after about five minutes of buildup, the effect is uncannily similar (at least for me) to Dave Gahan's voice hovering over the triumphant finish of the legendary Split Mix of Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again".

11. The MFA, "The Difference It Makes (Superpitcher Remix)", Kompakt Pop (2004).

If you ignore the fact that the Beloved's "The Sun Rising" (whose legend was grown thanks to a million drug-fueled dancing-til-dawn parties) was not one of their better singles, you could say that this remix was "The Sun Rising" for the 00's without insulting Superpitcher's finest achievement. Its hazy, ambient synth washes (which are what MAKE the record, hands down) and slick, propulsive beats are as positive and uplifting as any balearic anthem ever conceived. Sometimes, it almost feels like it's a shame to dance to this song and not to simply bask in it, gazing at it as if it were a painting.


Leee said...

Your Mogwai observations are great; I don't know that I'd be interested in hearing a shoegaze NIN, but shoegaze Sabbath makes perfect, terrible sense. Also, always thought that Mono were the band to carry the Mogwai torch, though more of a carbon copy of the Ten Rapid/Young Team era. God that first track is gorgeous.

Barry said...

There are plenty of metal/shoegaze bands ... but shoegaze industrial bands? We need more of those!

I may xpost this piece on Cave17, it sort of fits with the kind of writing I've been doing there, and all of it's writers are suckers (just like me) for end of year/decade listmaking stuff.

Aurelle said...

I really love See Mi Yah (Hallucinator Remix). Your remix flows nicely together too. Well done!

"a "best tracks" list that is full of album tracks is boring. It's just a "best albums" list that is bent into a slightly different form. And one's favourite tracks *should* be mostly composed of album tracks, because for the most part, the best albums feature all the best songs."

You gave one counterargument yourself with the t.A.T.u. exception. Best tracks don't have to correlate with best albums, especially if you consider how most artists release spotty albums rather than fully completed ones. One way of going around this is to list one per artist. While arbitrary (such is the nature of these lists), an argument could be made that Umbrella may be better than any track off, oh, I don't know, Yelle's Pop Up, but the latter would beat Good Girl Gone Bad handily in the album department. Yelle could have a few tracks in top X, while Umbrella may be Rihanna's only gold horse from the album for the same list. There are plenty of great tracks by lots of different artists - consistency is hard to achieve! So list away!