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DFA double: Holy Ghost! and Factory Floor

  
If you’re a regular Foam Hands visitor you’ll know that I’m a huge DFA Records fan-boy, which actually poses a problem of sorts when it comes to reviewing the label’s latest brace of LP releases: how do I convey just how awesome these records are without a) gushing like a simpering sycophant or b) taking anything away from any of the other fine DFA albums and singles I’ve praised to the heavens in the past? Well, let’s start – level-headedly – with Dynamics, the sophomore full-length from disco-digging Brooklyn duo Holy Ghost!, out September 9. When Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser released their eponymous debut in 2011, critics heralded it as one of the finest pure pop albums of the year, then proceeded to bury it in the lower reaches or “honourable mention” sections of their year-end lists (I’m ashamed to admit I only ranked it at number 42 on my own, a criminally low position in retrospect). Whilst an analyst might chalk the underwhelming response up to bad timing (the album was eventually released four years after its first single, a lifetime in terms of hype cycles), or the new musical climate it was born into (Death Grips, Rustie, James Blake, The Weeknd, Drake et al), the same reasoning would suggest the follow-up could fare significantly better. With classic soft rock fetishists HAIM crossing over to the mainstream and synth-pop a major influence on some of the year’s best albums (Phoenix, Autre Ne Veut, the forthcoming CHVRCHES LP), Dynamics captures the zeitgeist brilliantly, but more importantly than that it just happens to contain some of the most well-written and naggingly addictive pop songs in recent memory. Like LCD Soundsystem, Holy Ghost! are unafraid to wear their influences – ’70s West Coast AOR, disco and early ’80s electronic music in fairly equal measures – on their sleeve. Indeed, as was often the case with LCD, Dynamics is packed with moments – be they vocal melodies, basslines or even certain synth presets – that resemble specific songs so closely it’s as if the band are running through a “Losing My Edge”-style checklist of their own favourites: “It Must Be The Weather” and “Bridge & Tunnel” echo Rufus’ “Ain’t Nobody” and Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” respectively, “I Wanna Be Your Hand” is Bernard Sumner singing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, “Okay” sounds like a mash-up of “Are Friends Electric” and “Cars”, and so on. But whereas James Murphy’s homages were inevitably accompanied by a knowing wink, Frankel and Millhiser couldn’t sound more sincere. Refracting Steely Dan, Giorgio Moroder and Depeche Mode like spotlights bouncing off a glitterball, the pair’s hook-heavy, hedonistic disco-pop hybrids are so fit-for-purpose that they could have been engineered in a test tube, yet the band make them sound so joyous, so organic, so alive that they make you want to don a white suit and strut, Travolta-style, across the nearest polished floor. In short, it’s the soundtrack to the perfect night out in New York City; listen to the epic “Dumb Disco Ideas” below.

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If Holy Ghost! call to mind champagne cocktails and light-up dancefloors, the long-awaited debut album from London three-piece Factory Floor (also out September 9) is evocative of an altogether different kind of night out. This is the sound of tension, of paranoia, of fear. It’s concrete and chrome and glass. It’s cheap drinks and being forced to talk to people you hate. It’s the feeling of chemicals in the bloodstream, of dancing because you have to. It’s the feeling you get after hopping off the night bus that someone is following you down the dark alley that takes you home. But most importantly, it’s the soundtrack to the hour of pure, unadulterated joy that – despite everything – inevitably comes somewhere between leaving your shitty office job at 5PM on Friday and finally falling into bed at 5AM on Saturday. Nik Colk Void, Gabe Gurnsey and Dominic Butler may take inspiration from post-punk, noise rock, acid house and techno, but the music they make is – at heart – unmistakably industrial, a hybrid of organic and machine-made sounds utterly enslaved to repetition, and like the production lines that provided them with their name the trio are just as concerned with the monotonous, day-after-day grind as the end result. Whilst spiky, metallic early singles like “Wooden Box” led to collaborations with the likes of New order drummer Stephen Morris (who famously agreed to produce some songs after a demo CD in an envelope labelled simply “Stephen Morris, Macclesfield” miraculously arrived at his house) and Throbbing Gristle’s Chris and Cosey, and to subsequent forays into cross-platform performance art, Factory Floor sensibly focuses on the group’s more club-friendly rhythmic side, and by “focus”, we mean FOCUS: here every sound – each drum machine thud, each whip-crack snare, each woodblock and cowbell – has been meticulously pored over, mic’c, recorded, processed and clipped into exactly the right shape to fit perfectly into this immense sonic jigsaw. For an album that consists of little more than percussion, synths and a few vocals (Colk Void’s guitar is largely absent, or at least heavily disguised) Factory Floor is incredibly dense, and listening (especially on headphones) to tracks like “Turn It Up” and “Two Different Ways” it’s easy to understand why it took almost three years to make: if, from a distance, it seems like a straightforward dance record, closer inspection reveals it to be much, much more. Yes, as a “straightforward” dance record, it’s an unmitigated success; for all their minimalist synth arpeggios, ghostly chants and intricately layered percussive patterns, these songs’ ticking, clicking, hissing, shuddering, bell-ringing, booming beats display a certain primal quality, liable to reduce a crowd to blank-eyed, cold-sweating, limb-twitching zombies. But if Colk Void, Gurnsey and Butler’s skills as techno-voodoo high priests (and priestess) are beyond doubt, Factory Floor also reveals them to be perfectionist sonic sculptors, avant-garde artisans who have crafted a brutally beautiful masterpiece at their first attempt. Yeah, I said “masterpiece”. So much for being level-headed, but seriously: fuck that. In a year of bold musical statements (Daft Punk, Yeezus), Factory Floor have just the biggest impression of all. Listen to “Fall Back” below, and stream the whole album via NPR.

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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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