New Order and more...
Purveyors of a genre (new wave), kings of a decade (the 1980s), and a reinvention of another classic and essential band (Joy Division), it’s difficult to overstate New Order’s artistic and commercial success. One can’t go wrong with any of the classic LPs the band released in its first decade, from 1981’s Movement to 1989’s Technique, but Factory Records’ compilation of the group’s singles, Substance (or Substance 1987), provides the most bang for your buck. A de facto greatest hits record, there’s not a skippable or unwarranted inclusion to be found here. Superfans may have a few complaints—“Ceremony” and “Temptation” are re-recorded cuts, not the original versions, and some songs have been shortened—but the music still shines. Bassist Peter Hook’s signature high-necked style created some of the ‘80’s most delectable melodies. Some of the programming and drum machine work may sound dated, but that’s part of the charm. Drop the needle and soak it up.
Recommended tracks: “Ceremony”, “Temptation”, “Thieves Like Us”, “The Perfect Kiss”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”
A combination of the seminal District of Columbia band’s first two EPs, Fugazi and Margin Walker, 13 Songs is Fugazi’s most straightforward—and to some ears, most successful—release. While Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto’s guitars brilliantly play the field from hardcore chug to post-punk refraction, it’s the peerless rhythm section of bassist Joe Lally and Brendan Canty that gives Fugazi its true strength. Lally takes punk’s long flirtation with dub to new heights, laying down grooves both rock-solid and immediately catchy, while Canty drums with a fury and creativity still unmatched by his band’s many offspring two decades later. Fans of MacKaye’s most celebrated previous act, hardcore titan Minor Threat, may have been surprised when they turned up at Fugazi shows to find less of a circle pit and more of a dance party (not that MacKaye would’ve stood for the former—check Jem Cohen’s 1999 Fugazi documentary, Instrument, for wonderful clips of Fugazi’s legendary energy as a live band and MacKaye’s equally timeless chastising of poor audience manners). These days, we take the cross-pollination of punk and dance music for granted, but Fugazi represents the ultimate initial embrace between the attitudes of the two worlds. Keep your mind sharp and your hips shaking.
Recommended tracks: “Waiting Room”, “Bad Mouth”, “Suggestion”, “Margin Walker”, “Glue Man”
Daft Punk was the first house act to achieve true rock star status (quite an accomplishment for two robots). Discovery proved controversial upon its initial release, as many critics and listeners found its amalgamation of styles too different—read, too ambitiously eclectic—from the group’s hit debut, Homework (1997). In retrospect, this record sounds more prescient and more aware of things to come (and therefore more fitting with Daft Punk’s futuristic schtick) than Homework. Yes, this is electronic music, but its foundational elements lean heavily on rock and pop. That’s the reason the record and the band were able to achieve such commercial success: these are rock songs written for the synthesized future. The blissful “One More Time” borrows its structure less from traditional electronic music and that genre’s extended 12” cuts and more from the classic verse-chorus-bridge-chorus mold of rock music. If you still have doubts about Daft Punk’s rock bona fides, just check the virtuosic shredding on “Aerodynamic”. (PopMatters review)
Recommended tracks: “One More Time”, “Aerodynamic”, “Face to Face”, “Something About Us”
LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy perfected his craft on his band’s second album, Sound of Silver (2007), moving into more emotionally-driven, musically-eclectic territory. Still, while LCD Soundsystem may lack in sentiment when compared to Silver or the group’s swansong, This Is Happening (2010), it compensates for the absence with pure, unadulterated energy. “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” pays tribute to Murphy’s predecessors (hey, they’re right before him on this list, too), as does the brilliant, name-checking, self-effacing “Losing My Edge”, LCD’s first song. Throughout the album’s two discs (the latter of which also collects the group’s early singles), Murphy tries on different voices and different musical ethos, all to wonderful successes—the dance-punk of “Tribulations”, the just-punk of “Movement”, the disco sheen of “On Repeat”. No one saw this record coming, and it’s amazing to think of where Murphy and LCD Soundsystem went next, but the band’s debut remains the most consistent bet for the dance floor. (PopMatters review)
Recommended tracks: “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, “Tribulations”, “Movement”, “Losing My Edge”, “Yeah (Crass Version)”
Future Islands have not yet received anywhere near the attention of many of the acts on this list, but the up-and-coming Baltimore trio represents how intricately intertwined dance and rock music have become in this new decade. Vocalist Sam Herring possesses a wonder of an instrument, growling and cooing with equal resonance; his bandmates, bassist William Cashion and keyboardist/programmer J. Gerrit Welmers, create lo-fi washes of melody and noise to provide a backbone for Herring’s howling. In decades past, Herring would have fronted a more straightforward punk band. Now, he’s able to bring his preternatural energy and impressionistic lyrics to his group’s driving, pogo-ing rhythms. Cashion has clearly studied Peter Hook of New Order’s idiosyncratic and quietly brilliant work with the bass guitar, and Welmers knows how to get the most out of his simple drum machines. If Future Islands are a mark of where we’re headed in the coming years, we’ll be doing just fine. (PopMatters review)
Recommended tracks: “Long Flight”, “An Apology”, “Inch of Dust”, “Swept Inside”