Artists have made great strides with remixes since Duran Duran began releasing `nite versions’ on twelve-inch singles. Not that those extended dance tracks weren’t laudable on their own merits, but remixes in the past couple decades have extended well beyond club beats and looped vocals, the possibilities of what you can do with a remix seemingly limitless. In some cases, like R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” the remix can earn more attention than the original. And bands like Grizzly Bear and Stars have given artists free reign over their work, resulting in remix albums that have resulted in drastic reworkings, in some cases finding artists merely covering the songs altogether. Then there are teams like The DFA, who are bound to turn any song into a dancefloor classic. Remixes are more than just party fodder these days, they’re a sort of re-interpretation of someone’s art, a reverse observation of something through different channels. It doesn’t always work, of course, but sometimes it yields sheer genius.
To refer to Subtle’s yell&ice as a remix album doesn’t quite do it justice. These aren’t so much remixed songs as they are complete reworkings of them. As the band explains it, it’s an extension of 2006’s For Hero: For Fool, as it tells of the further adventures of the album’s protagonist, Hour Hero Yes. Now, this narrative is somewhat difficult to follow in this context, as new sounds are piled upon one another, while faint glimmers of source material lingers, new guests step into the frame and each song launches full-speed into multiple directions at once. It’s confusing and overwhelming, but damn, is it good.
Joining Subtle is a large cast of collaborators, including Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, Why?’s Yoni Wolf, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Hood’s Chris Adams, Markus Acher of The Notwist, Fog’s Andrew Broeder and Martin Dosh, better known only by his surname. Over the course of nine songs, Subtle and their many talented guest musicians completely raze the source material from For Hero: For Fool, leaving only a handful of tracks that can be easily traceable to their prior incarnations. The titles have been changed, the melodies have been all but rewritten, and new creations emerge. Stunning, intense and thoroughly new creations.
“Falling” attacks with frighteningly vicious synths, as Yoni Wolf delivers his trademark sing-speak, ascending gloriously into one of the catchiest tracks in Subtle’s catalog, though still as peculiar and eerie as ever. “Middleclass Haunt” picks up where “Middleclass Stomp” left off, only recognizable due to the name and immensely pounding drum intro. Within its dizzying clash of sounds, Dan Boeckner’s acoustic strums and earthy vocals provide a delicate juxtaposition against the distorted beats and synths erupting underneath. The tribal recreation of “Midas Gutz” in “Deathful” is ominous and mesmerizing, with Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals sweetening the otherwise unsettling composition.
“The Pit Within Pits” revisits the hospital-set terror of “Bed to the Bills,” albeit with the serene vocals of The Notwist’s Markus Acher, while “Not” is a makeshift set of commandments ranging from “thou shalt not sign with Astralwerks” (which they did) to “thou shalt not read Vice magazine.” “Sinking Pinks,” in spite of a name suggesting more raunch than one actually gets from the track, is the prettiest track here, all instrumental dreaminess and ambient dubscapes. Closer “Requiem for a Dive” is a close second though, billowing weightlessly above static-ridden drum machines.
Always good for an artsy foray into complex, progressive hip-hop concept albums, yell&ice finds them diving farther into abstraction. By taking mere bits, pieces, samples and concepts from For Hero: For Fool, the Bay Area outfit has succeeded in piecing together an entirely new album that sounds suspiciously like a new studio album. As sublime as the initial art in question was, yell&ice merely reveals new and exciting aspects within the character of each song.
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.