Looking at You: Club Hits

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Making dance music that you can also sit still to isn't easy. After all, dance is a fragile species of music, that doesn't survive well off the turntables, outside of the laptop, or outside of the club. But Sunscreem's 1998 release Looking at You: Club Hits artfully reinterprets its back catalog to give us both. Songs that never needed a tune-up receive one anyway -- for the better. A Sunscreem song is never finished, but on Hits, the remixes re-emerge more aggressive and wholly realized. Whereas Change or Die, Sunscreem's previous release, hesitates between Peter Gabriel-esque multiculturalism and a Sarah McLachlan lilt, Hits breaks down "Looking at You" and "Exodus" and builds them back up to be the dance songs they were always meant to be. Dance music has a pretty easy job: keep people on their feet and in the club. But where most DJs would sample their way through the motions, cut and paste a chorus and a synth-riff over the usual thump-and-hiss, Sunscreem invests some consideration and thought into the beat. Percussion fills swoop through synthesizer mist, and the clever ornamentation that trickles over the standard bass-and-hi hat allows the songs on Hits to explore their corners without exhausting themselves after five minutes. Groove-wise, Hits' selections meet all dance quotas, but what's unexpected is they also emit a mollifying, radioactive brightness. Comparable rave pop artists, like Underworld, use dance to soundtrack cerebral and subconscious thought -- with slow, aquatic keyboard swells over manic, flickering beats -- to permit listeners to be all alone and idle in a crowded club. Here, though, Sunscreem's results are often so purely happy and upbeat they reach the point of abstraction, like heaven just discovered electricity. On "Catch" and the multilingual "When," Lucia Holm's vocals rise to atmosphere-thinning heights and spin off into something so cleansing that drugged-up nightclub disconnection seems like a headline from an old newspaper. But that feeling is all lifted out of the traditional techno. And that's just the thing, this isn't art or literature or a near-death experience, it's dance music. But somehow, on Looking at You: Club Hits, Sunscreem have had themselves an epiphany.