“Don’t Expect Anything” by Erik Marinovich
As a music critic I’ve enjoyed examining both lesser known and difficult to avoid singles. Critiquing the latter category can be more challenging because reviewers need to sniff out a record’s appeal (and to which audience) while judging its merits with a fair and even tone. I find it interesting to target tracks whose popularity has ballooned because they’re more likely to be heard by club-goers and sometimes they just need to be punctured. “Popularity” isn’t the best metric for the quality of a track anyway, not least because what it accounts for an open question: How and why a DJ has “supported” or charted a record often goes unsaid. (Sales charts are more useful, revealing more about music’s actual buyers — people buying vinyl on Juno have much different taste from those who buy mp3s on Beatport.) Can 500 DJs and thousands of dancers be wrong? For their circumstances perhaps not, but on my reviewing stack? Quite possibly. With that in mind I’ve endured a great deal of popular dance tracks from the first half of 2010 to pick out five whose acclaim seems most at odds with their merits. Most of them are not intolerable and some of them you might even enjoy — all the more reason to figure out why they punched above their weight.
NUfrequency ft. Ben Onono, “Fallen Hero”
(Motor City Drum Ensemble Remix) [Rebirth]
For all the unimaginative, trendy tracks gobbled up each year there’s usually one vocally driven song, remixed by that year’s au courant producer, which breaks through the loops and asserts its dominance. For example, 2009 lifted up Johnny D’s remix of 2020 Soundystem’s “Sliding Away”; 2008 was fond of Henrik Schwarz’s rework of Ane Brun’s “Headphone Silence”; 2007 plumped for Wahoo’s remix of Ben Westbeech’s “Hang Around,” and so on. “Fallen Hero,” reworked by the white hot MCDE, fits the mould. Inspiring damp eyes in synthetically emotional clubbers with Ben Onono’s reedy soul vocals laid across the mawkish strings and generic guitar strums decorating its newly installed house beat, its predictability is both the driver behind its bloated popularity and the reason why it turns me off. Regardless what platitudes spill from Onono’s mouth, the track feels like a bloodless facsimile of an emotion dreamed up by a house music focus group. Tick enough boxes and you’ve got yourself an annual vocal anthem.
Try instead: The beautifully sung and benevolently remixed “Feed Your Mind” by Sandman ft. Jeremy Ellis, remixed by John Beltran & Riverside.
Butch, “No Worries” [Cécille Records]
The funny thing about repetition is the difference between too much and too little varies widely from person to person and generally depends on what’s being repeated. Get it spot on and you’ve got a dance floor moment audiences won’t want to end. Get it quite wrong and only the patient and intoxicated won’t use your track for a beverage or bathroom break. With top billing in RA’s June charts, a respectable showing on Beatport’s top 100, and bold faced DJs including Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano dropping Butch’s “No Worries,” one might expect the Mainz-based producer had hit the nail on the head. At the very least dancers are being perpetually bludgeoned by slightly garbled looped speech (from First Choice’s “It’s Not Over”), a demanding ramble made only slightly less onerous by its trotting house beat. Sprinkle a few “ooh baby” vocals for good measure and you’ve got a lobotomized stab at early Chicago house. I won’t deny there’s a slightly earworming quality to “No Worries” that some are quite taken with; but with all the charm of a nagging customer who has too much free time, it feels like a chore to enjoy and a cue to migrate elsewhere.
Try instead: Nebraska’s sublime use of repetition on “Vicarious Disco.”
Joris Voorn, “The Secret” [Cocoon Recordings]
It’s hardly a secret why Joris Voorn’s latest single has blown up so big — you practically already know it. Its basis is a rolling synth and bass arpeggio evoking Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and its most noteworthy chord change borrows from Psyche’s “Unveiling The Secret.” Tapping into dancers’ fond memories of past hits is hardly a new tactic, and yet it irks me how heavily Voorn relies so dance music touchstones to pave his own path. He pitches up the familiar groove and filters it frequently, dubiously attaching the spiky, upstroke chords of dub to provide a rigid techno backing. It’s almost as if he balked at the idea of playing the actual “I Feel Love” in his sets and so assembled his own edit. Regardless, “The Secret” almost seems like a cynical calculation of crowd-moving potential and evidence that Voorn isn’t pushing himself creatively like he has in the past. Let’s hope he’s as charitable when another upstart producer appropriates prime bits of his tracks for their own gain.
Try instead: Lindstrøm & Christabelle’s “Let’s Practise.”
Addison Grove, “Footcrab” [Swamp 81 Records]
If you were one of the hundreds of DJs or thousands of fans who caught the “Footcrab” I’m afraid I don’t have a cure for you. Unleashed by Addison Groove, better known as Headhunter and apparently a student of Chicago’s juke scene, the jabbering stepper is so persistent it’s difficult to avoid having its chant rattling around your brain. There are even a few hints of organ chords between endless torrents of “footcrab!” and “insane!” and slender percussion. I can’t shake the feeling, though, that this is bass music’s gimmick track of the year, a novelty that seems a bit sillier in hindsight and belongs to a distinct place and time. That’s not enough necessarily a bad thing, as it’s admittedly clever in its relative simplicity. Still, I’m already anticipating the day when the “Footcrab” outbreak has run its course.
Try instead: DJ Bone’s world beating “No Sleep (True To Da Roots).”
Carl Craig, “At Les” (Christian Smith’s Remixes) [Tronic]
Frankly, I’m a little offended Christian Smith thought “At Les” still needed remixing. That’s probably not a good position to start with in a review, but it’s true. “At Les” has appeared on dozens of comps and it’s only been remixed once, by Russ Gabriel, and released by Planet E. I know art, especially music, is a living medium where little is sacred, but it takes a lot of chutzpah if not outright hubris to think you’re going to put a fresh spin on one of the best songs ever written. Not surprisingly it’s Carl Craig who speaks the loudest on Christian Smith’s remixes, and where the Swede’s contributions do stick out — the obnoxious polish gleaming on its progressions, its uncouth percussion — I want to push them back inside. Of the two, “Tronic Treatment Remix” (streaming above) is the most proggy yet faithful; the “Hypnotica Remix” streamlines the majority of the track before briefly experimenting with a gruffer tone. It’s telling that Smith put out the record on his own Tronic label — it’s a cheap stab at notoriety that Planet E and Carl Craig would never release.
Try instead: Don’t mess around, get the original “At Les” by Carl Craig.