When James Murphy mothballed LCD Soundsystem two years ago for a blissed-out life of record-producing and European DJ jaunts— plus extra time to just stay home and walk bulldogs or whatever—he deprived his own record label of its biggest and most culturally relevant, critically revered act. In the years since the band's latest album This Is Happening, DFA Records has put out their usual crush of art-rock LPs, 12” house singles, electro-pop one-offs. The best of those have been underrated cult items like Planningtorock’s trippy, operatic W and Prinzhorn Dance School’s smart, spartan Clay Class, records that reward repeat plays yet carry profiles low enough that those granting second listens are a little too rare. Big-deal mid-decade roster act Hot Chip moved on to Domino, while original flagship band The Rapture has been humbled from its former height. There’s a star vacuum. This week, two long-brewing records, the second album by Brooklyn pop duo Holy Ghost! and the debut of London’s mysterious dance-drone outfit Factory Floor, hit the stores simultaneously. It’s as good a moment as any to see how NYC's most influential label of the 2000s is holding up now that its defining era has ended.
Holy Ghost!’s first DFA single, “Hold On,” was a minor classic of nonchalant but committed modern disco. From there, they focused less on elongated Giorgio Moroder chugs and honed-in instead on slick mid-80s radio pop. Dynamics, like the self-titled 2011 album it follows, is big and bouncy and blank. Singer Alex Frankel delivers flat, everyman vocals that go well with the group’s sturdy beats. New Order made that formula work once or twice. It’s a sound that’s been a proven thrill for fun-loving indie festivalgoers flocking to see foreign importers like Cut Copy and M83. This is big-crowd, instant-connection stuff. But outside of packing NYC references into their songs, what distinctive qualities do Holy Ghost! have over those other guys? It’s hard to argue that Dynamics is poorly made, and I won’t. It’s just that their level of control and retro specificity is a modest strength, but a bigger weakness. Is there a defined point of view or forward-thinking wrinkle intended, or is this just a well-done genre exercise? If so, ok. Give them a sticker and move on.
Factory Floor's self-titled album leaves you with questions too, but their ambiguities are more intriguing. The trio waited a good four years to release this first record, declining to make a hasty first statement even as they were gaining a rep as an overpowering club act and becoming a magnet for famous cosigners like those nice old fellas from Throbbing Gristle. There's a formidable level of control here, too, but it’s crucially calibrated toward having a disorienting effect. The steady house music builds on most of the record’s tracks, carefully constructed for compulsive body moving. But it won’t be an instant dance music crossover like that Disclosure’s record from earlier this year, because it avoids ever becoming a perpetual pleasure dispenser. Singer and guitarist Nik Colk Void is heard mainly in warped, echoed snippets. Its the tension between the aloofness of her vocals and the hypnotic pull of the rhythm that gives the band its distinct identity. It’s the sound of finding a night-long dance partner who refuses to make eye contact, won’t exchange digits. It’s a kind of exquisite frustration. The economic necessity of signing big electro hit makers is easy to understand, but aesthetically DFA might be better served by adding more artists who aren’t so keen to give us what we think we want.