Remixes = eurgh!

I may be in danger of alienating some readers here, but I really don’t see the appeal of remixes.  I know a decent proportion of you will have been directed here from The Hype Machine – where remixes seem to be quite popular – so I guess a fair few of you are remix-connoisseurs, but I just don’t understand it myself.  Now don’t get me wrong, a good remix can be an enjoyable listening experience, but stumbling upon the mythic beast that is a “good remix” is a very uncommon occurrence.  It seems to me that 99% of them are just plain rubbish.  Of course, the joy of being a music blog is that I can bombard you with examples of both good and bad remixes, and I certianly intend to do just that…

The Good Remix

In my eyes a good remix builds on the foundation of a good track and creates a complimentary companion to the original.  Most of the good remixes I’m aware of can stand alone as musical works in their own right, but even with the really good ones you’re only getting half the picture.  To make a remix is to make a work that is inextricably tied to another piece of work; a musical Castor and Pollux.  A good remix from a bad song can be interesting as an academic speculation, but is ultimately as redundant an exercise as a bad remix from a good song (and this is where remixes differ from cover versions; a good cover version from a bad song can be a wondrous achievement).

There are many exponents of the “good remix”; artists from Four Tet to The Postal Service have delivered sterling work in this field, most notably with Kings of Convenience and Feist respectively, but for now I will focus on the Miyauchi Yuri remix of Jeremy Warmsley‘s track If He Breaks Your Heart (full info here).  This remix does butcher the harmonic content of the song by flattening it beyond belief, but even that is a defensible artistic choice.  The sparse, angular substance of J-Wo’s original acoustic version is morphed into a lush soundscape by the remixer, but crucially the body of the song remains intact – it’s a song with a definite arc and a “message”*, and both are sill in evidence in the remix.  You can listen to the remix and still glean the essence of the original whilst at the same time enjoying a wholly new musical experience.

Jeremy Warmsley – If He Breaks Your Heart (acoustic)

Miyauchi Yuri – If He Breaks Your Heat (remix)

The Bad Remix

As I’ve already established, these appear to be much thicker on the ground than good remixes, and the choices for a salient example are legion.  Excellently named BbopNRokstedy[sic**] have the unlucky distinction of being the most recent act to drop a remix in my inbox.  This one is a remix of Phoenix‘s excellent track 1901, from their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  I’m a bit of a latecomer to the Phoenix party (I finally got around to listening to W.A.P. after their inclusion in The Hype Machine’s 2009 Zeitgeist earlier this month) so you won’t find a full review here at EbM, but suffice it to say the record’s a triumph.Alas the same cannot be said for the remix…

Here the relationship between original and remix is very slender indeed; it appears that BbopNRokstedy, in their infinite wisdom, have simply cut a couple of brief snippets from the vocal of 1901 and then sampled them repeatedly over a godawful dance track.  Any trace of the original’s structure or arc has been thoroughly removed, and that this outfit have the gall to call this abomination a “remix” beggars belief.  Now I realize I’m beginning to sound somewhat vitriolic at this point, but then that’s the very reason I’m writing this post.  This kind of behaviour really annoys me***; I really enjoy listening to a good remix, but there’s no way of telling if a remix is going to be any good or not other than by actually listening to the thing.

But of course there is, really.  There’s at least a 99% chance that a remix is going to unlistenably terrible, and with those odds it’s far better to simply steer clear of of them altogether…

Phoenix – 1901

BbopNRokstedy – 1901 (remix)

*I know, I know; I’ll let you make your own minds up on that front…

**Well, the thought behind the name is excellent, even if the execution is appalling.

***almost as much as an American spell checker that seems to have forgotten the point of “…our” – color, flavor, and behavior are not words!

Dark Was The Night: a Red Hot compilation

promopackshotI’ve already mentioned in passing that 2008 was a really good year for me musically; not only because of all the great new stuff that was released, but also because I discovered loads of fantastic “old” music that I’d not previously been aware of.  Foremost amongst these new discoveries was my ever growing obsession with The National.  I’d really enjoyed The Boxer LP when it came out in 2007, particularly the 3-on-4 feel of Fake Empire, but last year – at the suggestion of a good friend – I checked out their back catalogue and promptly fell head over heels in love.

Unfortunately I hear they’re not releasing a new album until 2010, but I’ve finally found an excuse to post about them: brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, from The National, have produced possibly the greatest compilation album I’ve ever heard about.  It’s being released by the ever-popular-on-these-pages label 4AD, it’s called Dark Was The Night, and it’s in aid of the Red Hot Organization – a charity aiming to raise awareness about AIDS and HIV through popular culture.

The list of contributing artists is quite frankly phenomenal.  You can see the full list here, and almost every single act on there is a personal favourite of mine, and from what I’ve heard so far the songs live up to their pedigree.  To give you an idea of what I’m talking about a random sample of the thirty-odd acts throws up Bon Iver, Beirut, Conor Oberst, The Decemberists…  I’m tempted to list all of them, in fact, because the list is just SO good.

It’s all for charity, so sneaky downloading of it is exceptionally deplorable, but they have released one promotional mp3 from the Dirty Projectors and David Byrne, which I’ve included below.  They have a widget for streaming some of the tracks but I can’t seem to get it to work here.  To remedy the situation I’m including a stream of another track: a cover of Nick Drake’s Cello Song by Jose Gonzalez and The Books.  I’m particularly excited about this one as it’s the first new track from the fantastic The Books that I’ve heard in ages.

All things considered, this is the record I’m most looking forward to at the moment.  It’s released on the 16th of February, and I’d strongly recommend getting it.

The Dirty Projectors and David Byrne – Knotty Pine

Jose Gonzalez and The Books – Cello Song

This sex is on fire… Bonfire Night at Ottery St. Mary

Ottery Tar BarrelWhat do you get when you squeeze thousands of people into a tiny village, then run madly at them whilst carrying a burning barrel of tar? I guess you’d have to ask the residents of Ottery St. Mary, in Devon, as that’s what they do on November the fifth every year.

Allegedly the origins of this surreal ritual are lost in the depths of antiquity, but the rules are quite simple: You can only carry a barrel if you were born in the village, and wim’n and chil’n get to carry small barrels in the early evening.  A barrel is set off once every hour or so from outside one of the village’s pubs, and they get progressively bigger as the night goes on; with the biggest one (about the size of a car) being released at midnight.  The crazy locals carry the barrel on the back of their necks untill the heat becomes unbearable (when they pass it on to another waiting villager) or the barrel disintegrates.  Oh, and the only protective gear they get is a sack on each hand to keep off the fire.

Totally bonkers.

And did I mention that they do all this while in the midst of a moshpit-style crowd? ’cause they do!ottery1