Astralwerks, perhaps one of the most well-known and trusted labels in electronic music, proves yet again it is still the leader of the pack. The label's compilation entitled Freq.Beats is a two-disc set that features power-house dance hits from such artists as Daft Punk, Fischerspooner, Gorillaz, and more, with songs that pulse with classic dance beats and startling ingenuity. The album also showcases lesser-known artists with some great tracks of their own. As an excellent dance album, this compilation definitely stands out, and best of all, many tracks are still good when the dancing shoes come off and the headphones are plugged in.
Pulling no punches, the first disc practically sizzles with hot dance beats. The opening track, Telepopmusik's "Breathe", is a sultry and ethereal song with shimmering synths that will sweep you off our feet (even if your dance partner won't). The next track is the veritable discothèque classic "Harder, Better, Faster Stronger" a la Daft Punk, whose extensive voyages through the techno-pop-phonic pallet have proven them to be one of the best artists in electronica, mutating the simple theme into endless and subtle variations that will make even the most timid want to groove all night. Another classic is Royksopp's "Eple", which is a veritable aural feast. Borrowing from techno's long-time love affair with dub, the group subtly manipulates the hook to a delightful and fascinating effect. Yet another unforgettable track is the inimitable Basement Jaxx with their signature hit "Where's Your Head At". The gritty lowdown beat and lyrical refrain make this song a natural choice for the serious dancer, while the surprising and chaotic mix pushes the limits of what it is possible to accomplish while sustaining a solid and danceable beat. Finally, I cannot fail to point out the joyful pop brilliance of the Gorillaz' "19-2000". As it is a well-known fact that fans of pop music love to dance, it is only natural that Astralwerks should include this track, whose catchy chorus and brightly colored timbres create a song that is pure ear-candy.
As is often the case with techno, many of the tracks are remixes, but occasionally this is not a disappointment. One song that seems to have been born to be remixed is "Fever" as performed by Peggy Lee. Her sultry vocals and the infusion of classy jazz timbres add a cool sophistication to otherwise tepid techno beats. However, not all the remixes are matches made in heaven. The originally classic Fischerspooner track "Emerge" is adulterated by the addition of arena rock drum beats and staid electric guitar solos a la Huey Lewis. The addition of these outmoded timbres feels like a straight-jacket on an otherwise hyper-modern and intensely exuberant track. Another tragic remix is Paul Oakenfold's cut-and-paste job on Dirty Vegas' otherwise amazing "Days Go By". The remix leaves most of the hook intact, staying true to the real grit of the song's melodic brilliance and simplicity, but then splices in chunks of clichéd raver beats. It's still good, but the original is better. The absolute worst track is the remix of David Bowie's "Heroes". It sounds as if the remix artist took a hammer to one of rock's best and brightest recordings and smashed it to pieces, then glued them back together in garbled and dismal loops. Not at all pleasant, needless to say.
Conveniently, most of the mediocre tracks are confined to the second disc, so if you're running late to your next dance party you can simply grab the first disc, or in a pinch you can use the second disc as a coaster for your drink. Many of the lesser known artists are about as good as you might expect -- not very -- but there are some surprises as well. For the most part, even the tracks that aren't amazing are good enough to keep everyone's groove on, even if you might prefer to skip them when it's just you and your disc-man. In that case, there are a couple of interesting tracks on the second disc that highlight techno's softer side. Dave Gahan's "I Need You" is vaguely reminiscent of techno's earlier manifestation as synth-infused '80s pop, one which treats more serious subject matter with a chill guitar melody and sweetly slimmed-down synth tones. The Postal Service also contributes what might be called an emo-techno track with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", a great selection for your headphones that features a delicate and vital beat under a gripping mournful lyric.
Overall, this is a great techno compilation that features a nice balance of classic and newer artists and songs. It would make a nice accompaniment to any dance party, up-beat social gathering, or just putting some rose-tinted glasses on a gray day. With this double album, Astralwerks has put together an excellent introduction to one of the most significant manifestations in recent years of the timeless love of dance.