Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Various Artists: The DFA Remixes: Chapter One

How do you make handclaps melodic? The first step is to figure out how to make people pay close enough attention to recognize that all handclaps are melodic, in their way. No two are the same, and some are snappier or fleshier than others, so claps set out in a series can't help but rise and fall at least a little, taking on "musical" properties that are powerful, though almost imperceptibly subtle.

But how to lure listeners close enough to notice? The DFA's strategy is to play lots of hide-and-seek. The production duo that revived New York and made rock and dance music rethink old feuds, The DFA is arguably at its best when restructuring songs rather than creating them from scratch. On The DFA Remixes: Chapter One, it's easy to imagine two chums twirling and stomping around their studio, listening as much as tweaking. All the mixes—of Blues Explosion, Gorillaz, Soulwax, and Hot Chip, to name a few—are naturalistic and raw, curious enough about their source material to isolate certain parts and let them run on for long stretches. That's where the hide-and-seek comes in: The mix of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon" sounds so in love with its paunchy electric-piano vamp and lazy bassline that its easy to miss what's happening with the drums, which is crucial to its role as a dance record. Patient developments correct for that in time, showing the strength of their sneakiness by playing sleight-of-hand tricks that find a focus and then move on. Part of that comes from dance music, but it more strongly reveals The DFA's rock roots by imbuing even the trance-iest mixes (The Chemical Brothers' "The Boxer," Radio 4's "Dance To The Underground") with a working sense of song.

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What's best is the sense that no DFA remix will sound quite the same way twice. That applies to the sounds within as well as the complete tracks, which beg to be approached from different directions—as contemplative rock, frazzled dance, wonky prog, and so on—so they can show off entry points lurking almost everywhere.

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