Few persistent trends in music are as inexplicable as the remix album.
The appeal of bands doing cover albums makes sense; who doesn't want to hear their favorite musicians put their own unique spin on classic tracks? Hell, some of them (like Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ Kicking Against the Pricks) even become great records in their own right. The remix album, though, is a different story.
Who is the remix album for? For the people who make music, remix albums are a chance to play around with other people's work or to see how other people would walk a mile in your shoes. But for fans, most remix albums end up being inconsistent hodge-podge collections of songs that are almost never sound as good as or better than the originals. From the perspective of a listener, remix albums are a classic example of Sturgeon's Law: 90 percent of everything is crap.
One band that's been able to break Sturgeon's Law and put out remix albums that are actually worth your time and money are L.A. noise-rockers HEALTH. The men in HEALTH are as adept at making pulsing dance music for goth clubs as they are at producing pummeling electronic hard rock and composing moody scores for video games. There's something about their music, in the way it marries buzzsaws and blips, that just begs to be remixed. It's like their dark and dancey style is a sonic Mr. Potato Head.
Last month HEALTH released DISCO3, the third volume in their remix album series. They announced the release by posting a video of Pauly Shore doing a "Reverse Telethon," where band reps called back fans who had called HEALTH via a number posted on their social media. In addition to boasting remixes by groups like Preoccupations and Purity Ring, DISCO3 also has three new tracks on it (new tracks are always the cheese used to draw fans into the remix mouse trap). The new tracks alone make DISCO3 worth a listen: "Euphoria" and "Slum Lord" lean deeper into the decadent club sound off their last album Death Magic, while the aptly named "Crusher" ominously throbs like a torn-out heart beating in your hands.
The remixes on DISCO3 hold their own, compared to the new songs. Remixes like Marcus Whale's "Salvia" shatter the original songs and glue them back together into dissonant, jagged new shapes. Other remixes push the band even deeper into pop territory, with Purity Ring's "Life" remix sounding like it could be right at home on radio (in a good way), sandwiched in between Rihanna and Calvin Harris singles. Front to back, DISCO3 holds up as well as its predecessors do; all three albums exist in that narrow 10% margin of Sturgeon's Law where worthwhile remix albums can be found.
To be honest: as good as they are, none of the DISCO albums hold a candle to any of the band's "real" albums. That wouldn't be a fair standard to hold them too, though — no remix album is meant to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a band's best work. They're musical detours and dead-ends; luckily, HEALTH knows
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