Can you teach an old dog new beats? Maybe, especially if the ideas behind them really are tried-and-true. The EDM explorers on Star Wars Headspace – a Rick Rubin-curated compilation – let 16 producers play with R2-D2 bleeps and other bits of the sound library of the world’s best-known space opera. The artists (including TroyBoi and Rustie) are of recent vintage, but the message isn’t: “Let go of your conscious self, and act on instinct,” as Obi-Wan puts it in a maxim sampled by Deadmau5 pal ATTLAS on “Sunset Over Manaan.”
As befits a Hollywood-inspired project, the familiar and crassly entertaining moments deliver more value than the intellectual, so sophisticated beat thinkers like Flying Lotus and Shlohmo lose out to fist pumpers like GTA, Baauer and Rubin himself. But the snatches of dialogue from Princess Leia and Han Solo that might prompt cheers on the dance floor wear thin, and most of the tracks are like collectibles that lose value once you remove the original packaging.
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One of the year’s oddest albums argues that Texas two-step and disco four-on-the-floor aren’t so far apart: Countach (for Giorgio) is a tribute to Euro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder from country scion Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon. Moroder actually recorded the country-tinged “Born to Die” in 1974, before making history with the robotic sexcapades of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” a year later. The boogieing remake of “Born to Die” here, with Steve Young (a country outlaw running-buddy of Waylon’s), is a highlight, veering into a Skynyrd Gothic bridge. It’s a gas to hear the keyboard noir of Moroder’s Midnight Express theme, “Chase,” updated with heavier beats and guitars, and Brandi Carlile’s ice-dancing take on the 1984 soundtrack hit “The Neverending Story” is a keeper. But the most surprising thing about Jennings’ Countach production is how faithful it is. The vocoder nonsense is dialed down, some violin and pedal steel gets added in, but the classic melodies remain.
It’s been 25 years since U.K. rock adventurers Primal Scream first merged Chicago house and “Let It Bleed.” Chaosmosis opens on familiar ground with the loose-limbed throb of “Trippin’ on Your Love,” featuring backing vocals from Haim, some stoned-soul pillow talk and a paraphrase of Nietzsche. It’s both ridiculous and reassuring, and whether it’s the dark romp of “100% or Nothing” or the hypnotic swirl of “Where the Light Gets In,” Chaosmosis never really moves beyond reassurance to revelation. Sometimes to keep on keeping on is its own reward.