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The Rapture, ‘Echoes’ (Strummer/DFA/Universal) ; Various Artists, ‘DFA Records Compilation #1’ (DFA)

SPIN Rating: 5 of 10
Release Date: January 01, 1970
Label: Strummer/DFA/Universal

The not-so-secret heroes of dance music and hip-hop aren’t singers or rappers, but producers. Bold-faced beatmakers like Timbaland and the Neptunes have become stars in their own right, relegating their collaborators to the passenger seat of the Escalade. Producers James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, who call themselves the DFA (Death From Above), create underground rock the same way–building records from the groove up, making their own recognizable sound, even launching a label to feature their work. It’s an unnerving idea to a scene obsessed with liveness and realness, but they’ve gotten a year long string of fabulous singles and remixes out of it.

The DFA’s most notorious produce-ees are the Rapture, whose jolting disco-punk anthem “House of Jealous Lovers” was an enormous underground hit last year, despite being a vinyl-only single that got zero radio play. Some of Echoes continues in that vein, notably “Olio,” a cut from the band’s 1999 debut album, reworked to sound exactly like mid-’80s Cure, and “Killing,” which deploys bursts of guitar the same way vintage Latin freestyle used synth stabs. An entire album of this stuff would be the party record of the year, but the Rapture want to show off their artistic range, too; unfortunately, many of the underdeveloped rockers and plaintive ballads here are dance-floor-clearing duds.

Other than two eruptions of looped whistle-and-screech from noiseniks Black Dice, DFA Records Compilation #1, a collection of the label’s singles, thumps along like the best Rapture songs. “Losing My Edge,” credited to Murphy’s solo project LCD Soundsystem, is the DFA’s finest moment: a cackling dis of cred-obsessed hipsters, with a shape-shifting groove deep enough to stand next to the British post-punk and Detroit electro records the team name-drops, mocks, and honors. If this is the sort of thing the DFA knock off in their spare time, it’s hard not to wonder why they need bands at all.