Yellow Magic Orchestra - "Seoul Music" (Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Disco Classics 1974-1986)
Yes, Strut is going back to the well. This third Disco Not Disco dispatch necessarily lacks the power of its two predecessors, which helped make this the dominant retro aesthetic of the early aughties. A lot of the people who got off on this shit then were crate-diggers who had no problem finding and exposing further rarities, and there simply isn’t that much of it left that hasn’t been heard. This stuff is now mainstream nostalgia, and has lost the surprise element. That doesn’t keep this disc down, though. This beautifully sequenced comp illustrates that, no matter how many times revisited or how cheapened by bland imitation, this era of dance music, with its original risk, rage and mystery intact, will always be a joy to behold.
Neither an obsessive gem-grubbing mission nor a pro-forma party mix, it blends increasingly familiar micro-classics (Shriekback’s “My Spine Is the Bassline,” James White and the Blacks’ “Contort Yourself,” Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business”) with primitive Detroit house (A Number of Names’ “Sharevari”) and the dark, eggheaded 4/4 meditations of Isotope and Yellow Magic Orchestra. And it all flows together well enough that the transitions emphasize fresh elements of each track. Lest we forget, this stuff was never that great without a particularly intuitive DJ in the house.
Disco Not Disco III begins with a dubby kiss-off (“Laundrette,” from scenster, music writer and John Lydon pal Vivien Goldman) and ends with a dubby abstraction (“Silent Street/Silent Dub,” from the recently anthologized Maximum Joy). In between, it flows through a couple of aforementioned hits into loose, jazzy territory, through the darkness of YMO and Material, and into a stretch of roomy, protracted club cuts (notably “Sharevari” and Six Sed Red’s poppy S&M paean “Beat ‘Em Right”). Seamless, no, but it’s mixed in such a way that it sounds like a movement, not like a bunch of odds and ends that somehow, even in the massive wake that LCD Soundsystem and company have generated, haven’t been played out yet.
Of course, the collection still suffers a bit from predictability and diminishing returns. This stuff has come and gone many times over, and no one needs to be reminded that there are alternate histories to the stifling doom of “rockism.” Considering the sky-high production values and dashing experimentalism that permeate current pop, hip hop and R&B, what was once wildly dangerous can now only sound charmingly primitive. As much as it still snaps and crackles at its best moments, the sounds of “post-punk, electro and leftfield disco classics” have become ever more paradoxically comfortable.