With summer about to wrap us all in its sweaty embrace, we've begun to dream about dance parties, DJ sets and sunny-day grooves. The following are submitted for playlist consideration.
Fort Worth doo-wop trio the Van Dykes idolized Curtis Mayfield's epochal group the Impressions, which is clear from the earnestly soulful tracks on the new Sundazed reissue comp Tellin' It Like It Is: The Mala Sessions. These mid-'60s sides can't match Mayfield's songwriting brilliance or the Impressions' vocal chemistry. But man, did they have heart. Anyone with an affinity for sweet, old-school R&B will enjoy Tellin' for its undeniable feeling and grit. The brainchild of Rondalis Tandy, whose paint-peeling falsetto gave tracks like "I'm So Happy," "You Need Confidence" and "Never Let Me Go" an exuberant kick, the well-scrubbed triad wailed their way onto the R&B charts and toured on the chitlin circuit before splitting up in 1968. Tandy, tenor Wenzon Mosley and baritone James Mays were backed up by the Rays, another of those unsung R&B outfits who quietly inspired a thousand dance parties — and will no doubt find their way into a million DJ sets and electronica tracks.
The electronica project Teddybears emanates from Sweden, but you wouldn't necessarily guess that from hearing Soft Machine, an engaging disc of sassy, goofy dance music with pop smarts and punk attitude (of the most obvious kind — see the track "Punkrocker," featuring guest vocalist Iggy Pop). Recalling Fatboy Slim (notably on the dancehall-meets-go-go highlight "Cobrastyle," featuring Mad Cobra), Daft Punk, Apollo Four Forty, Propellerheads and other eclectic groovemeisters, the 'bears are all about left turns. Teddybears Jocke, Klas and Patrik apparently began their music careers in the dissonant trenches of grindcore, but their catholic tastes led them to sunnier climes; Soft Machine finds them reaching across the musical spectrum and engaging — in addition to the aforementioned — such guests as Neneh Cherry and Soundtrack of Our Lives frontman Ebbot Lundberg.
Nelly Furtado established her reputation with the soaring, lyrical pop single "I'm Like a Bird," but the wind beneath her wings these days is a combustible mix of hip-hop and '80s pop. Her new disc, Loose, was produced by Timbaland, who lit the fuse beneath myriad hits by Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and others; the two seem to have found a rare chemistry in the studio because Loose has a mad-scientist party vibe that will likely cause temblors in clubs, gyms, living rooms, iPods and any locale equipped with speakers. The frisky leadoff single, "Promiscuous," is just the beginning; follow-up "Maneater" (no relation to the Hall & Oates trifle) is a veritable Tyrannosaurus rex, and there's plenty more where that came from.
Furtado seems liberated from the genteel constraints of her earlier records, inspired in a way that recalls OutKast and Dirty Mind-era Prince. Gorgeous, stylish and savvy, she is clearly poised for Gwen Stefani-style pop domination. But unlike Stefani, Furtado never seems outside her comfort zone; she has hip-hop credibility (as anyone who's heard the electrifying remix of Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" can attest) but is just as poised belting out a
Nelly's going to be everywhere; unlike most artists who try to be all things to all listeners, she actually pulls it off.passionate Spanish-language duet with global superstar Juanes ("Te Busqué") or glittery pop numbers like the impossibly catchy "Showtime" and ravishing "God's Hands." She'll be rocking Miami hotspots with the rap en español juggernaut "No Hay Igual" and melting gay clubs with the swirling Madonna homage "Do It." In short, Furtado's going to be everywhere; unlike most artists who try to be all things to all listeners, however, she actually pulls it off. In fact, what's most surprising is how well the entire album flows, despite its forays into robot funk, Latin anthems, Bollywood, Britpop and virtually everything in between. Furtado and Timbaland share an obvious fondness for '80s crossover benchmarks like Janet Jackson's Control, Michael Jackson's Thriller and early recordings by Depeche Mode and New Order, but they deploy the decade's gleaming synth patches and percolating sequencers without undue reverence. Best of all, Furtado's singing seems less self-conscious than ever — the vocals are guided by the demands of each song, even if, as on "Maneater," she's required to sound nearly unhinged. The year's not half over, but by virtually any criteria you'd care to name, Loose is one of the best albums of 2006.
Our dance playlists these days are usually stuffed with mash-ups, those loony, usually unauthorized conflations of two or more tracks into a kind of playful megamix. Some are inspired, some labored, but there are usually at least a few moments of hilarious synchronicity. The best remixers in this subgenre, such as Go Home Productions, Party Ben, DJ BC and Arty Fufkin, have a flair for making magic with seemingly incompatible elements. The most legendary mash-up, so far, is Go Home's "Rapture Raiders," an evocative pairing of The Doors' eerie, mystical "Riders on the Storm" with Blondie's punk-chic proto-rap hit "Rapture." DJ Danger Mouse (lately barnstorming the pop charts with the innovative alternative rock/hip-hop hybrid Gnarls Barkley) gained underground fame for combining the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's The Black Album to produce The Grey Album.
We've lately become infatuated with DJ Riko's "Stand Up and Ring My Doorbell" (Ludacris vs. White Stripes), DJ Moule's "ABC Breaker" (Jackson 5 vs. Led Zeppelin) and Go Home's insanely comprehensive "Wrapped Detective" (a heady punch blending the Police, Elvis Costello, Peggy Lee, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, the Hollies and, for all we know, the entire British Parliament). Thanks to perennial EE pal Jim Dinda for bringing some of these jams to our attention. Of course, in all matters mash-up, we bow down before DJ Paul V, who spins the mash at L.A.'s Indie 103.1, at his club night, Bootie LA, and online.