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Review: DJDS Unload Their Hearts (and MPC500s) on ‘Stand Up and Speak’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: January 28, 2016
Label: Body High

Back when Los Angeles’ DJDS were still DJ Dodger Stadium, the underground super-production duo relied mostly on samples to distill house music’s lifeblood — a melodic yet militaristic adherence to 4/4 time signatures that can be both elegiac and euphoric — on their feverish 2014 debut, Friend of Mine. The only problem with their particular use of samples (other than, y’know, legal roadblocks) is that the songs featuring them aren’t necessarily unique snowflakes: For instance, token belter “Never Win” interpolates the chorus from Love Committee’s 1977 jingle “Cheaters Never Win,” which also runs through Teengirl Fantasy’s burning “Cheaters.” It’s telling, then, that DJDS’ more personalized follow-up full-length is called Stand Up and Speak. The title is about making an album, period, but it also refers to this particular collection of heart-worn paeans to hope in the face of apocalypse: Instead of excavating voices from tracks destined for the bargain bin, Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy enlisted their friends, family, and Craigslist recruits to sing live.

The Body High label heads, born Jerome Potter and Sam Griesemer, aren’t exactly subtle about their shift from singin’ the rock-bottom blues to posi-vibes — Friend of Mine opens with curtains-drawn anthem “The Bottom Is as Low as You Can Go,” and Stand Up and Speak with the more hopefully titled “One Good Thing.” But then again, generally speaking, neither are the vocals allowed within the parameters of house music, limited by dancers’ tolerance for anything that might distract from their #bliss. On the former LP, the medium was the message, as phrases and words were chopped up in service of the beats underpinning them, with the same effect as Giorgio Moroder‘s Frankenstein experiments with Donna Summer’s voice on the arguable Big Bang of contemporary EDM, 1977’s “I Feel Love.” This time, DJDS didn’t chop up the voices they recorded nearly as much, especially after the cleansing chorus of beatific voices on the instrumental halfway through the record, “No Guarantees.” Stand Up‘s title track shines precisely because the vocals are left alone: The singer’s constricted moans at the end of every verse and his muffled laugh in the middle of his apocalyptic proclamation give this album more immediate emotional currency than Friend of Mine.

Without the constrictions of that album’s relentless rhythmic drive, however, Stand Up‘s even more pop-oriented vocal arrangements can feel inconsequential. “Give Me Something to Believe In” successfully juxtaposes all of those elements, boasting the record’s most complicated verse-chorus-verse throughline without sacrificing any of the murky bass line’s forward momentum. Elsewhere, when DJDS try to split the difference between minor-key pathos and uplifting gospel verses, Stand Up stumbles. When “You Don’t Have to Be Alone” hammers home its titular mantra, what sounded euphoric last year comes off as slightly trite in this context, and without the warbled cutting-room snags that made the title track so dynamic. It’s akin to listening to a best-selling self-help tape alone in your dark bedroom instead of sharing the transcendent moment of an especially amazing set’s peak with lots of other people on the dance floor.

Though they might always hit the sweet spots of DJDS’ first album, Stand Up and Speak‘s comprehensive offerings — more substantial in structure and content than your average EDM — nod to the gilded early days of dance music across the country: DJs like David Mancuso at the Loft would spin entire records at a time, rather than splicing them together in the interest of keeping people moving, which is what Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy are doing. “Give me something you believe in,” their vocalists sing, and if DJDS believe in the power of song to effect change, they’re making it happen one loop at a time.