Remix albums, tribute albums, cover versions. I find the whole thing fascinating, in particular that whole riddle of how you can't un-hear the original version if you are familiar with it and therefore never how your reaction would differ if you had never heard it. I'm sure it's a question that has kept you awake many a night. Fellow (((o))) writer Kevin Scott and I decided to have a crack at this riddle with two perspectives of the new sleepmakeswaves album: ...and then they remixed everything, a collection of remixes of tracks from the Sydney instrumental rock band’s debut album …and so we destroyed everything.
Not being familiar with the original album, coming straight to a remix album can be an unnerving process – has that bass line always been there? Who’s behind the distortion on this or that bit? The key is to not really give a shit who did what and just listen to the combined effects of both the original track and the alternate version.
The start to ...and then they remixed everything is so industrial it makes you want to get your overalls on and start a shift down the mines, your pick axe being thrust into the rock with steady precise beats. As ‘our time is short but your watch is slow’ builds, the stereo fills the room as loops intensify and before you know it, you’re surrounded with a wall of deep bass and keyboards. It’s a sensational experience.
The Rosetta remix of ‘in limbs and joints’ doesn’t have the same energy. Remixes can have a tendency to be strung out and this emerges here, where the ambience in the track comes to dominate. It works as a piece on its own, but relative to the tracks either side of it, it feels lost.
Klue’s remix of 'to you they are birds but to me they are voices in the forest’ goes the other way – it’s multi-dimensional space-rock, with a funky (yes, funky) synth part riffing off a borderline drum & bass background. It’s loaded with effects too and there is enough going on that new sounds emerge on repeated listens, making it easy to return to the album time and again.
On occasions (Keep My Father remix), it becomes too dirty, to the point of minor irritation and monotony, but this is but an occasional dip. The album’s strength is its strength in depth – and nowhere is this more evident in the Atlantis remix of ‘to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest’. It’s less trippy than the Klue version – and wraps its many layers of electronic wizardry around a subtle R&B vocal.
When the near 19 minute ‘after they destroyed everything’ comes round the ‘ethereal’ adjective that has been dancing around in the background finally comes good. The track calms, sooths and relaxes, using the same industrial elements that holds everything else together. In short, it’s a triumph.
In 1992 I heard the Vic Chesnutt cover/remix of R.E.M.'s 'It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)'. I was a massive fan of the band and it was a far more radical interpretation of their songs than most of the other covers on the tribute album it appeared on. It was also the first time I'd heard someone take just a couple of elements from a song and create something that was essentially new. Well 21 years later technology has moved on, remixes now swamp cover versions and I’m listening to a collection of remixes of another band I am a massive fan of – sleepmakeswaves.
The thing that strikes me the most is the almost total abandonment of the crescendocore element of the originals. It makes sense really – these are relative snapshots manipulated and strung out with other characteristics shaping the track's new identity. It's an identity that each participating artist doesn't have a whole album to establish so what you get is a snapshot within a snapshot. It probably goes without saying, then, that this is an album made up of some tunes than rather than the original which is some tunes that create an album. For fans of the original I don't think you will enjoy the remixes unless you embrace the underlying difference before you even think about the tunes themselves.
The mood of the album covers a vast range, from the playful and brash to serious and intense. The cheeky 8-bit vibrato of 'hello chip mountain' by Ten ThousandFree Men and Their Families sticks its tongue out at you as it robs you of the original's opportunity for some serious air-drumming while Klue’s remix of 'to you they are birds but to me they are voices in the forest’ takes the climax and essentially does to it the equivalent of wearing a Groucho-Marx-glasses-and-mo set at a funeral. Which I promise is a good thing.
The Atlantis remix of the same song is entirely different, with voice playing a significant part and those familiar melodic phrases slowed right down and is recognisably Atlantis. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving remixes a remix of the epic 'a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun' which pulls you under a merciless ocean and drowns you, with that trumpet solo heralding the last desperate beats of your heart. The Rosetta remix (presumably by Mike Armine) of 'in limbs and joints', takes the essence of the build-up to the climax without actually reaching it, building up so slowly over around six minutes it then falls away, leaving you feeling lost and alone. It's intensely emotional but as good as it is, in this case I'd rather hear it alongside Armine's own work or perhaps next to the final track.
Glasfrosch sits somewhere in between these ends of the spectrum, taking 'now we rise and we are everywhere' and presenting two tunes at once with great interplay between fast and erratic, and slow and flowing – a brilliant interpretation that also sits well alongside their own work, especially with all those croaking frogs.
The risk with a remix album like this is that it would earn the unofficial title ...and so they completely destroyed everything but instead through that process of deconstruction and reconstruction we get to share what others hear in the music of sleepmakeswaves that we love.