[31 May 2009]
Disco reclamation isn’t for the thin-skinned. The genre has been the subject of hardcore ridicule for so long that anyone who tries to revive it with sincerity risks artistic irrelevance right out of the gate. To the vast majority of music fans, disco is a red-headed stepchild of a genre, good for a laugh and maybe a cheeky remix, but little else.
Still, the pesky genre has slinkily insinuated itself into late 20th and 21st century pop music again and again, always arriving incognito, cloaked in gaudy irony. When Ween or Hot Chip dip their toes in the sex-styled bass lines, honeyed vocals, and druggy optimism of disco, we feel like we’ve been given permission to enjoy it. But no serious band has tackled the stuff straightforwardly with success. Since its alleged death 30 years ago, disco has been relegated to the realm of tongue-in-cheek nods and gay pride parades. Oh, and wedding receptions.
Chin Chin probably won’t change that. But their deft employment of disco moves on their new album, The Flashing, The Fancing, makes a good argument for the beleaguered genre’s enduring value. It doesn’t hurt that Chin Chin come to us from the street cred hotbed Definitive Jux, which is better known for doling out hardscrabble backpack rap than lip-gloss smeared dance floor fodder. Also, unlike similar bands that hang their hat on retrograde cocaine-and-mirrors dance music (San Francisco’s Sugar & Gold come to mind), Chin Chin consistently deliver the goods when it comes to both songwriting and sheer creativity.
Although it starts off on a limp-ankled foot with the insistently fey “Stay” (which follows the tone-setting instrumental opener “The Flashing”), Chin Chin leave no doubt about their intentions on “It’s Ok”, wherein a cascade of fluttering cymbal crashes are followed by a silky, quiet storm of a jam that’s perfectly suited for chemically enhanced relaxation, sex, or (best of all) both. “If you and I are going to touch the sky”, go the mindlessly sunny lyrics, “It’s a new daaaaay!”
Although disco is their most distinct flavor, on The Flashing, The Fancing Chin Chin exhibit their unapologetic adoration for all things ‘70s. “Kings” is a funky horn-infused rumble that belongs on a blaxploitation soundtrack, while “Peterdactyl” sounds tailor-made for a Barry White sex sermon, but is better off for forgoing vocals altogether.
Chin Chin’s best asset is restraint, and its excellent instincts pay off on the stunning “GG and the Boys” a hypnotic, erotic track where the vocoder—a tool so often used and abused by lazy singers—is employed to fantastic effect.
Many contemporary white-boy bands are adequate at self-consciously aping disco, funk, and quiet-storm, soft-as-silk soul. But few can play it off legit. That’s exactly what Chin Chin—in spite of their ridiculous band name—do on The Flashing ,The Fancing. Can you dig it? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t try, no matter how much your better judgement might recommend otherwise.