September 4, 2013

Test Spins: Holy Ghost!, Dynamics

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Disco has come a long way from John Travolta, platform shoes, white guy afros and “I Will Survive.” Hell, it had come a long way before then. What started as the funk, R&B and Latin-tinged soundtrack for the multicultural, gay-friendly loft clubs of NYC first turned into a worldwide musical sensation. Then it became public enemy number one of long-haired rock fans everywhere; then a hackneyed period reference; and then, sometime in the mid-2000s, rock fans, who had just recently admitted to enjoying that hip-hop music people were so crazy about, started referencing old disco records and Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage DJ booth.

This is largely because of DFA figurehead and LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy. “I was the first one playing Daft Punk to the rock kids,” he sang on 2002 single “Losing My Edge.” “I did it at CBGB’s. Everybody thought it was crazy.” It was, but, gosh darn it, it worked!

It may seem unfair to mention Mr. Murphy in a review of Holy Ghost!’s sophomore LP, the delightfully groovy Dynamics, as the Brooklyn duo probably have a hard enough time escaping his shadow as it is. But even Nick Millihiser and Alex Frankel admit Murphy’s trailblazing status, thanking both the man and his musical moniker in the liner notes. The only reason a record like Dynamics gets attention and acclaim in this day and age is because of Murphy’s sublime synthesis of his eclectic influences and his vocal endorsement of the groups he loves. Respect is due.

Luckily for them (but mostly for the listeners), Holy Ghost! deliver something more than worthy of the DFA insignia. Gorgeously produced and impeccably arranged, Dynamics is a disco record through-and-through, albeit one with strains of ’80s electro-pop and, oddly enough, Peter Gabriel.  The complete opposite of James Murphy on the mic, Alex Frankel has the voice of a Teen Beat heartthrob circa 1988. On the clavinet and cowbell groove of “Dumb Disco Ideas,” he earnestly delivers vague lyrics like a sex-obsessed Thomas Mars, looking for something to end his “summer drought.”

“Dumb Disco Ideas”’s title is exquisitely apt: its resemblance to seventies disco classic “Funky Town” is a hilarious tribute to what is an awesomely silly cut. “Changing of the Guard” is practically a Duran Duran song, all taut guitar lines, squiggly synths, heavily processed “ahhs” and Frankel’s longing vocal delivery. Even the melodrama of “It Must Be The Weather” retains a certain playfulness, with electric guitar squeals and heavily reverberating drums that just scream “eighties.”

It’s a shame that Dynamics’s release was delayed until September; from the pulsating synths that open “Okay” to the hand claps and fluttering strings of “Bridge and Tunnel,” it wold have undoubtedly been the discerning NYC disco attendee’s summer soundtrack. Easily digestible but impressively executed, Dynamics does the DFA legacy a grand service: despite what some might say, life goes on after the demise of LCD Soundsystem, and, from the sound of it, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Original Author: James Rainis