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SPIN Essentials

Review: Escort, ‘Escort’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Label: Escort

These New York disco-funk revisionists start their self-titled debut album by calling themselves, in more than one language, phonies. “I’m the great imposter / I give you what you want,” boasts vocalist and lead diva Adeline Michèle on opener and recent single “Caméleon Chameleon,” laying this group’s acts of exquisite deception and instant gratification bare. Songwriters, arrangers, producers, and multi-instrumentalists Dan Balis and Eugene Cho co-founded Escort nearly a half-decade ago as a studio project, but the très-Chic orchestration, spacey synths, and multi-layered percussion of 2006 breakout single “Starlight” might’ve fooled you into thinking you were hearing a slickly rehearsed full band, with a loving retro-perfectionism that might’ve fooled you into thinking you were hearing a recently unearthed late-’70s/early-’80s re-edit.

Tell a fib magnificently enough and it can become a new truth. Now armed with a full complement of brass and woodwinds to go with their strings, keyboards, and congas, Escort’s ranks have swelled to an honest-to-goodness 17-piece stage band. Tapping into a still-rich musical vein that runs from connoisseur-approved 12-inch singles on labels like Salsoul and West End to the big-tent dance-pop of Michael Jackson and Tom Tom Club, Escort, a collection of killer singles past and present that flows like a fully conceived album, expertly reinterprets and refines its chosen genre. It’s like “Disco Duck” never happened.

In other words, the group’s long-awaited long-player represents disco at its urbane, hedonistic best. The slinky sexuality of “All Through the Night” (the one with that irresistible Muppets mash-up video) or the decadent, snow-celebrating cover of Dillinger’s badman reggae chant “Cocaine Blues” would be as at home in a modern Greenpoint nightclub as in a late, lamented New York disco space like the Loft or Paradise Garage. With astounding variety, Escort shifts shapes within itself, too, culminating in the offbeat exotica of sprawling finale “Karawane.” Avoiding the concessions to perceived accessibility that once crippled the genre, Escort’s Balis and Cho bring disco back to life by emphasizing its healthiest, most crucial elements — and nothing less.

If Escort‘s refurbished dance paradise only managed to match the real thing, that would be an accomplishment. But what’s really great about this album is how utterly present it feels. At a time when Retromania has fully taken over, a precise reworking of jazz standard “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” (evoking the spirit of legendary Paradise Garage DJ/remixer Larry Levan) is no more nostalgic than indie-pop duo Tennis’ ’60s-indebted sailing odes, while the electro-soul heartache of “Make Over” or “Why Oh Why” wouldn’t sound too out of place on an album by a consistently forward-thinking pop singer like Robyn. With apologies to ’90s swing kids Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, this ain’t your father’s retro revival.

And it comes not a minute too soon (or too late), either. From Skrillex and Deadmau5 to Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta, dance music is hugely popular with American youth for the first time in ages. And with LCD Soundsystem having broken down the indie-rock massive’s resistance to disco before conveniently breaking up, that (slightly) elder statesmen lane is now wide open. Escort’s moment is now. Luckily, Escort seizes it. Can’t fake the feeling.