- In music talk, the word "interesting" is a classic dodge. It's slippery-unto-meaningless enough to trot out when you're talking about something you're as yet uncertain of your opinion about, or something you want to like more than you actually do, because it takes chances or is on the cusp of something genuinely unique or had a cool noise in it that caught your ear even if nothing else in the track/album/set did. There are interesting moments all over Brooklyn no wave/dance duo Free Blood's The Singles, but when you play an album more than a dozen times and still can't quite remember how any of it goes even after you look at the titles, that's a problem.
The duo, former !!! percussionist John Pugh and Madeleine Davy, are crafty enough to keep things shifting from minute to minute: "Never Hear Surf Music Again" moves easily from atmospheric opener to disco groove to dub section and back again, but that latter return is more eventful than the tune itself. That kind of musical combination defines Free Blood: Pugh's strained falsetto, bumptious drums (check the cowbell and toms on "Grumpy"), drive-thru distortion, ominous cello (from ex-Out Hud member Molly Schnick) and goth textures are unique, but they often feel like parts rather than a whole. Aside from "Surf Music," the highlight of the disc's first half (the original versions of six songs) is "Parangatang," whose mid-point breakdown into a cool electro-squiggle, topped with a glossy keyboard line, would fit perfectly on the new Gang Gang Dance album.
The Singles' second half features remixes of five tracks (though, oddly, not Hot Chip's reworking of "Quick and Painful"), and these fare better, which isn't surprising, since they're aimed to move a crowded floor. The triumphs here are Greg Wilson's "Grumpy" remix, which juggles its elements with graceful force, Schnick's cello as much the backbone as its bassline and languid funk guitar, and Tim Love Lee's panoramic "Parangatang" remix, which retains the original's house party play-along vibe while throwing in some snaky 303 to both tighten and loosen it up a bit. (All that percussion would sound good pretty anywhere, of course.) It's on these tracks that Free Blood become not merely interesting but fully engaging. Let's hope they can make a full-on album that does the same.
01. Never Hear Surf Music Again
02. Quick and Painful
04. Royal Family
06. Weekend Condition
07. Never Hear Surf Music Again (Barfly Remix)
08. Weekend Condition (Scotty Coats & Wes The Mes Mix)
09. Royal Family (Brothers Remix)
10. Grumpy (Greg Wilson Version)
11. Parangatang (Tim 'Love' Lee Remix)