Remix Albums: Sometimes a Good Idea
The idea of an album existing entirely of remixes of songs, not just from an artist’s career, but from one single album, is not exactly the most alluring concept. Does anyone want to dust off their copies of Sneaker Pimps’ Becoming RemiXed? Take some master tapes, add a few high-profile producers, remixers, or dilettante musicians, and, voila, you have instant product. Ultimately what results from this discography padding is an album only bought by those who owned the original album, who are quickly disappointed with a product that consists of tracks that sound too much like the album tracks already owned along with other remixes that share none of the qualities which made the original album appealing. For the average rock fan, remixes should be left to import singles and stopgap EPs, if that.
For a while, the only “entire album remixed” project that has worked out as not only a viable listening alternative, but an actual improvement over the original has been Mad Professor vs. Massive Attack’s critically lauded No Protection, where legendary dub producer Mad Professor took a good but ultimately bland album and injected it with a chaotic energy that Massive Attack could never have discovered by itself. On this shortest of short lists, we can now add Her Space Holiday’s The Young Machines Remixed. Her Space Holiday founder (and sole member) Marc Bianchi has enlisted an absolute A-list of talent and let them loose on his own Young Machines album for a complete overhaul. Having made his version of the album, Bianchi has the refreshing lack of ego to allow the remixers to stamp their own individuality on his own highly personal work.
Part of the reason The Young Machines Remixed works so well is that the source material shares many qualities with Massive Attack’s Protection. Her Space Holiday is a very talented act, but The Young Machines suffers from the same lack of distinction that plagued the tasteful-but-underwhelming Protection. Countless times while writing a review of a good, but not astounding album, I find myself writing about scattered moments that touch upon a certain genius, and then speculating about the great album that might be hidden within. The Young Machines Remixed answers such speculation, as, for the most part, the remixers find something great inside Bianchi’s original and enhance it with their own notable skills.
The remixes that most closely follow the conventional pop structure are the ones that best show how a remixer can discover the hidden essence of a song. Arab Strap aptly transforms “Something to Do with My Hands” into an undulating techno-pop classic, in the vein of Hefner’s brief electronic phase. With an added spike from Broken Spindles, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” turns Bianchi’s self-loathing examination of the mixed emotions in an illicit affair into a thrashing yet sorrowful number that holds a candle to anything on the Postal Service’s Give Up.
The other style of remixing, however, is often the more fascinating route, and the true highlights of The Young Machines Remixed are the experimental tracks where the remixer finds something in the original song that even the writer did not know was there. The Super Furry Animals, for instance, find a shimmery, sad psych-pop gem in the overtly confessional “Sleepy California”, which deals explicitly with the death of Bianchi’s grandmother and his strained relationship with his mother. The Super Furry Animals find the uplifting core of hopefulness in this otherwise morose song. Stereolab, which is now officially one of the grizzled veterans of underground/alternative/indie rock, turn “Girl Problem” into, well, an early ‘90s Stereolab song: overactive keyboards, shattering guitar riffs, and the obligatory sunshine pop interlude. Both of these tracks, in essence, recreate Her Space Holiday songs into songs that would fit easily into their own catalogue, but they would not be successful if The Young Machines did not contain elements common to both acts.
A remix album cannot consist entirely of gems, if only because a remix album is in essence an experiment. There are no true disasters on the record, even if Nobody’s remix of “From South Carolina” is something of an anticlimactic ending, but the rest of the remixes are simply interesting alternatives to the originals. Even Dntel’s contribution, which should be an automatic highlight, is simply a dry, string section heavy version of “Japanese Gum”. (Although he should be awarded points for knowing well enough not to attempt to make his contribution sound like the Postal Service Mach 2). Both the Album Leaf and Blockhead fall into the trap of looping abuse that has doomed many a mediocre remix. Still, the fact the album is as smooth of a listen as its original is amazing considering the sheer variety of approaches the ten remixers attempt. The Young Machines Remixed is a rare creature: a remix album, with ten different remixers, that actually works as a beginning-to-end listening experience.