From time to time, James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy’s DFA imprint will release an album by the likes of Delia and Gavin, or Prinzhorn Dance School, just to shake up their otherwise disco-centric platform. But let’s get real here; we like DFA because of the badass woodblock, cowbell and basslines that they send pulsing through our Monster Cable-bound subwoofers. Dance music is what DFA does best, and though the label’s released one solid dance collection in 2008, that being Hercules and Love Affair’s first outing, through a collaboration with Rong Music, they bring the fat beats back just in time for the Holidays with Free Blood’s debut singles compilation, simply titled Singles.
Free Blood, a joint venture between John Pugh of !!! and fashion designer Madeline Davy, is a perfect fit for DFA. Like LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Juan McLean and various other related outfits, the duo filters a sassy, snarling punk sensibility through hot electronic rhythms and unstoppable disco beats. As it is a singles compilation, all eleven tracks here (five of them remixes) push the sensory envelope, providing maximum aural pleasure while scattering their sweaty disco seeds throughout. Basically, if these tracks don’t get you moving, you’re either dead or boring.
Though Singles is packaged as a compilation rather than a proper album, it does flow like a cohesive set of music, beginning with “Never Hear Surf Music.” It starts off slow and ambient, with Pugh pondering “there must be some fucking chemical…that makes us different than animals,” soon giving way to a laid back, but trippy bassline, only to find layers upon layers of vocals swirling into a rhythmic vortex and collapsing onto a psychedelic climax of horns and guitar. A thrilling intro to be sure, but “Quick and Painful” kicks up the intensity with high-speed vocals and dirty, post-punk bass. Meanwhile, “Grumpy” augments its urgent electro-breaks with curiously elegant bits of cello. Yet “Royal Family” slinks, sinisterly, with darkly ringing piano riffs and moans of “I can taste the blood in your mouth.” Though the song builds gradually, it’s one of the most impressive on hand, ultimately erupting with a solid hook of “why don’t we do it?” over a steady wave of handclaps.
The frantic “Parangatang” reveals a more chaotic, distorted side of the group, with dirty filter effects surging between soulful Rhodes riffs and sprightly cascades of barroom piano. “Weekend Condition” takes its time getting wherever it’s going, though once the remixes kick in, the set picks its momentum back up again, with Barfly’s mix of “Never Hear Surf Music Again” swaggering into an ’80s-style factory funk. The Brothers Mix of “Royal Family” pulses with a sort of minimal groove, only to explode into an out of control flash of analog bleats. And dare I say the Greg Wilson mix of “Grumpy” outshines the original? I suppose I just did.
Free Blood (who I really hope take their name from a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror sketch) are yet another solid addition to the DFA roster, bringing beats and basslines to clubs and bedrooms with plenty of sass and swagger. Though Singles may not be a studio album proper, it definitely flows like one, and when and if the NYC duo finally decides to put together a full-length, there’s loads of potential to stretch the talent here to outstanding new levels.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.