The Now Sound Redesigned

The Free Design

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The Now Sound Redesigned Review

by Tim Sendra

The Seattle label Light in the Attic began reissuing Free Design records in 2003, an overdue and most welcome development. Around the same time with the help of Peanut Butter Wolf they began roping in artists to remix and reimagine Free Design tracks. Originally issued as a series of 12" singles, the results are collected on The Now Sound Redesigned. A nice mix of hip-hop heads like Madlib, Danger Mouse, Murs, Kid Koala, and PB Wolf, electronic boffins like Caribou, Nobody, and Sharpshooters, and indie poppers like Stereolab, the High Llamas, Chris Geddes from Belle & Sebastian, and Super Furry Animals contributed to the effort, and you can gauge the reputation of the Free Design by the high quality of names who dug the group enough to be involved. Most of them kept large chunks of the source material, whether the pristine vocal harmonies or the ornate orchestral backings. Only a few deliver mixes that really hijack the originals, namely Danger Mouse and Murs (who turn "To a Black Boy" into a fiery condemnation of the prison sentence of a young athlete), Peanut Butter Wolf (who splices bits of Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" on his alternately head-scratching and head-nodding demolition of "Umbrellas), and Caribou (who stretches "Dorian Benediction" into an epic-length electronic symphony with lots of clanking bells). Otherwise the feeling is playful but reverential with numerous standout tracks. The Stereolab/High Llamas collaboration mixes five or six Free Design tunes into a sparkling chamber piece. Madlib adds filthy funk bass and stuttering drums to "Where Do I Go," sending it straight to a place you never thought you'd hear the Free Design, the dancefloor. Chris Geddes and Hush Puppy add a heady sense of humor and energy to their hilarious and energetic take on "2002 - A Hit Song." Kid Koala and Dynomite D. essay a suitably restrained, scratch-filled, and doomy trip-hop version of the Free Design's most emotional song, "An Elegy." Surprisingly with a project like this, there are only a few dud tracks, Stryofoam and Sarah Shannon (ex-Velocity Girl) turn in a hammy guitar rock version of the wonderful "I Found Love" and do what had seemed impossible: they manage to strip the joy right out of it. Mellow likewise remove all the fun from "Kites Are Fun" on a cover version that should be titled "Kites Are Bland." And for some reason, Dudley Perkins thought it would be a good idea for him to ramble on and on uninterestingly over Kousik's bouncy and sweet mix of "Don't Cry Baby." These moments are easy to overlook when the rest of the album is so nice, sweet, and interesting. A fitting tribute to the group, and if it gets a hip-hop fan or indie kid to discover the original beauty and wonder of the Free Design, the collection will have done its job.

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