Album Of The Week: DJ Dodger Stadium Friend Of Mine
“Lately, I’ve been singing love songs by myself.” “It looks like I’m the one who lost.” “Never win, you know you’ll never win.” On the page, these are elegant phrases, sharply drawn pieces of economical wording that hint at vast oceans of ache without lapsing into woe-is-me verbosity. But that’s pretty much all they are. They aren’t poems or novels or anything. If you string a bunch of phrases like that together, you won’t necessarily get the idea that these fragments make up a story. You sure as hell won’t get that they’re an L.A.-based emotional epic inspired by John Fante’s Bukowski-influencing 1939 novel Ask The Dust. And yet the L.A. duo DJ Dodger Stadium have made exactly those grand claims about their album Friend Of Mine, an album with no spoken passages or guest singers or even really lyrics, and I buy it completely. On Friend Of Mine, these two have found ways to take classic, sweeping, unpretentious house-music sounds and used them to build these big emotional crescendos. Friend Of Mine is an album that works, on its own terms, on some uncanny level, finding an emotional space where the kick drums lock into your heartbeat in more than one way.
DJ Dodger Stadium is the duo of Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy, the two co-founders of the L.A. dance label Body High. Here’s what I know about those guys: They chose terrible names for themselves, and they also picked a pretty bad name for their group. That’s it. That’s all I know. But based on Friend Of Mine, here’s something else: They know how to put tracks together. Friend Of Mind is a house music album, and it does house music things. It doesn’t belong to some new hybridized genre, and it never does anything showy to grab your attention. Instead, the album works so well because of the subtle and correct little choices that the two producers make. They know the exact right moment to let the drums kick in, to create that tiny rush of euphoria in your brain. They know when to add things and when to drop things out. Their tracks often ascribe to the whole build-up/breakdown structure, but they don’t trumpet those breakdowns in the way that so many festival EDM types do now. The tracks rise and fall in due course, cleanly and confidently arriving at their chosen destinations. And both producers use the same tricks that house producers have used since house music began: 4/4 drum patterns, wailing divas, infinite-loop samples, bouncing synthetic basslines. I don’t have a whole lot of raving experience, but I imagine the tracks would work well in a club setting. They move. This isn’t the sort of music that exists so that we can sit and contemplate it. It’s light, buoyant, alive music, music that sounds amazing blasted out of an open window on a sunny day. But in its way, it’s sad music, too.
When they talk about narrative, and about Ask The Dust, the members of DJ Dodger Stadium aren’t being literal; this isn’t a house opera. But the album has the feeling of narrative, a connective tissue of thought and emotion that ties the entire affair together. There are moments of deep depression on Friend Of Mine, and of harrowing anxiety. A lot of that comes through in the phrases that we hear repeated over and over, either because of samples or because of the guest wailers who come in and consider those phrases from every possible angle. But it’s there in the music, too. “By Your Side,” the most peaceful moment on the album, starts with an incandescent piano loop that’s been swiped from Alicia Keys. (That’s the only sample I recognize on the others. There are assuredly others, but this record isn’t a spot-the-references kind of thing.) “Trouble” has a blaring horror-movie synth that nicely captures that familiar sense of what-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-do panic. “Memory Lane” has reverby keyboards that seem dipped in nostalgia. The album-closing title track is built from a warm, wordless bit of gospel or doo-wop harmony, and it has the same sense of euphoric calm as some of the blues samples on Moby’s Play.
These tricks aren’t new things, and if you’ve ever heard an old house track with a Nina Simone sample, you know that producers have been wringing meaning out of tiny snatches of old music for just about forever. But everything on Friend Of Mine is executed so confidently and gracefully that they feel new. Even though these tracks are, at their core, house bangers, they’ve been put together with a structural minimalism that reminds me of much of the bass and pop music coming out of the UK right now. And there are subtle production decisions that pay off, too. “Sit Down, Satan,” for instance, has no drum sounds, but you don’t immediately notice because the track is still based around a simple, pulsing beat. But the beat is implied, not hammered, and that decision makes all the difference, and establishes “Sit Down, Satan” as a long exhalation between two particularly tense tracks. These tracks all have their own feeling, but they fit together. Friend Of Mine stands as a grand, sweeping piece of work, a testament that you don’t need to use attention-grabbing trickery to put together a fresh and vital genre exercise.
Friend Of Mine is out now on Body High.
Other albums of note out today:
• Braid’s assuredly executed reunion effort No Coast.
• Sia’s attempted pop-music breakthrough 1000 Forms Of Fear.
• Origin’s technical death metal onslaught Omnipresent.
• Eugene McGuinness’s brash, polished post-punker Chroma.
• Comet Gain’s low-key indie-popper Paperback Ghosts.
• Wolvhammer’s ferocious crusty black metal assault Clawing Into Black Sun.
• Wolves In The Throne Room’s ambient excursion Celestite.
• Gene The Southern Child’s affably zoned-out rap record Southern Meridian.
• The Skygreen Leopards’ stripped-down jangler Family Crimes.
• Cloud Boat’s dreamy, atmospheric debut Model Of You.
• James Blackshaw’s silent-film score Fantômas.
• Madlib’s Rock Konducta Pt. 2 beat album.
• Viet Cong’s Cassette EP.