[19 November 2008]
No mention of Tapes from !K7 before. Maybe the Rapture, New York’s best dance-punk pioneers, are the first in an intended series of artists to release influence-baring compilation albums. Perhaps it’s just a one-off project. In either case, this is the first mix to be released by the band. But why, then, wasn’t it included in the DJ Kicks series? It shares something with Hot Chip’s 2007 contribution to the series, which careened wildly between styles and eras in a similarly inclusive vein. Maybe the curators of the venerable mix series are saving up all their ammunition for the upcoming Burial mix, which is certainly worth getting excited about. But the argument can’t be (as was rumoured for Justice’s rejected Fabriclive mix) that quality isn’t up to par. First of all, why would !K7 then put out the mix in the first place? And secondly, well, Tapes is pretty irresistible, most of the time.
Where to start? First you have to know Tapes is about as eclectic as the eclectic, ‘70s-to-present, funk-to-disco-to-hip-hop-to-electro-house suggests. However, there’s no hint of obscurer-than-thou exclusivity that sometimes accompanies these crates-n-all mixes and this is what makes the mix successful. That’s an indication the Rapture have carefully crafted these various associations, putting considerable intellectual effort into tracing the common threads, say, between the new disco-soul of Cajmere’s “Say You Will” and its organic predecessor, the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost”.
The mix opens by drawing these connections explicitly, shuttling from ‘70s Motown to Ghostface Killah’s first solo single (with its own ‘70s sample, Vicky Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around”) to Junkyard Band’s ‘80s adolescent go go. Things settle down from here, but retain the joyful abandon established early on. A strong funk section lasts through the disc’s first third, occasionally recalling the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money”, but consistently surprising in its pep and—actually—its relevance. On the 1980s classic “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”, Vaughan Mason & Crew tell us “this funky kind of music simply makes you want to move”. No arguments here.
Don’t be fooled by all this retro cutting—look a bit deeper, and you’ll find the Rapture also possess a sure grasp of NYC’s current fractured and fascinating electronic landscape, too. Arcade Lover, the Metro Area-Escort collaboration, get a spin with their December ‘07 cruiser “Fantasy Lines”, and it shows us where Hercules & Love Affair sprang from. The disco recreation is recorded so clean it practically shines. This, Arcade Lover’s best-known song, highlights the Rapture’s eagerness to share fitting rather than wilfully obscure material. A similarly inclusive feeling informs Dances with White Girls’ “Everybody’s Got to Make a Living”. The title comes from 20th Century Steel Band’s “Heaven and Hell is on Earth”, previously sampled on “Jenny From the Block” and here turned into a thug-house reinterpretation of Daft Punk for Brooklynites.
If Tapes gets bogged down a little in its middle third, it may be due to the Rapture’s inclusion of more recognisable names at the expense of a continually evolving sonic journey. Kiloo & Phonique’s French take on the kind of laid-back disco of Sally Shapiro is adequate but not spectacular, and Armand Van Helden’s “Flowerz” wastes a characteristic soulful narrative with a too-expected house beat. The addition of Paul Johnson’s “Get Get Down” is a final head-scratcher. The song is really familiar from Ministry of Sound (or any number of other commercial dance) compilations circa 1999, and hasn’t quite matured to the point where the song’s nostalgia redeems its staid construction and familiar beats. Basically it still sounds kitschy and out of date.
We’ll forgive these occasional dips, though, because overall Tapes is so good-natured and inclusive. Compilations like this live or die on the reputation of their curators—we never know all the tracks beforehand, and part of the charm is trusting groups or producers to show us new music, or old music in new ways, that we hadn’t thought of before. There’s plenty of that on Tapes. You can be confident that a party thrown by these guys would have a pretty great soundtrack.