LCD SoundsystemLCD Soundsystem (Capitol) Click here to listen to "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House."James Murphy, the singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist who's more or less LCD Soundsystem all by himself, is a music geek who's made good. As half of the production team called the DFA, he's built his reputation on a string of singles that work both as dance records and as rock records, each one packed with allusions to the crown jewels of his DJing crates. "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" is a tribute to one of his favorites: the discotheque-rocking French duo Daft Punk. In the song, Murphy obsessively repeats a whomping two-bar riff—a very Daft Punk move—but the instruments themselves sound like the ones punk-rock kids would play in a basement show. The happy clash of those two cultures is exactly what Murphy's singing about: A fantasy DIY disco party where "the jocks can't get through the door."
Out Hud"One Life To Leave" (Kranky) Click here to listen to "One Life To Leave."Bassist Tyler Pope plays with LCD Soundsystem live and is also one of the principals of the arty New York digital-funk quintet Out Hud. They're inspired by an earlier generation of musicians who crossed over from underground rock to dance music: early '80s groups like Liquid Liquid and Pulsallama who figured out how to construct their dark, jittering grooves on stage with live instruments and a mixing board before they documented them on record. "One Life To Leave," the single from Out Hud's forthcoming album Let Us Never Speak of It Again, introduces keyboardist Phyllis Forbes and cellist Molly Schnick's voices into what used to be an entirely instrumental band. Their words are alternately smeared and buried in the mix and finally fragmented into glitchy phonemes. The point of their singing isn't the lyrics, but the uncertain, frail timbre of their voices.
The Chemical BrothersPush the Button (Astralwerks) Click here to listen to "Galvanize."The rapper Q-Tip's thin, crisp delivery is also a much more important element of the Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize" than what he's actually saying—it's a little wonder of syncopation, playing against the beat a bit differently with every line. A few years ago, the Brothers looked like the act that was going to break DJ culture into the pop mainstream, but it turns out they're more adept at cross-pollinating club music with freaky ideas from other genres. The backbone of "Galvanize" is a murky, tinny sample of strings from a record by the Moroccan pop singer Najat Aatabou, whose sour clash with the Western scale provides the friction that heats up the Chemical Brothers' straight-ahead electronic pulse (a trick borrowed from Britney Spears' "Toxic"). They also let the song's beat drift in and out of synch to give it more of an edge, a favorite technique of the DFA.
The Postal ServiceWe Will Become Silhouettes (Sub Pop) Click here to listen to "Be Still My Heart."There's only one Postal Service album so far, but Give Up has become the indie-pop equivalent of The Dark Side of the Moon, still flying out of record stores after two years. So the appearance of a new song by them is something of an event. "Be Still My Heart," tucked away on the single of Give Up's "We Will Become Silhouettes," illustrates the symbiosis that makes their recording-by-mail project work. If singer Ben Gibbard's puppy-dog plaint were presented in the "lonely boy with a guitar" format of his other band, Death Cab for Cutie, it'd be unbearable, and Jimmy Tamborello's spaceship-sounding electronics would be a bit chilly on their own. Together, though, they're like the best '80s synth-pop: emotion and breath cracking digital ice. And when Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis joins Gibbard for the chorus, it's a bracing moment.
The SlitsCut (Koch) Click here to listen to "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."Every generation of underground rock fans thinks it's the first to discover dance music, until it digs a little deeper for gems like this. The Slits formed in 1976 as part of the first wave of British punk rock bands alongside the Sex Pistols and the Clash, but by the time they finally made it into a recording studio three years later, they'd become a very different kind of group, groove-based and dub-crazy. This discofied reggae take on the Motown chestnut "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," originally a single and now appended to their newly reissued debut album Cut, is deeply eccentric—check out the hilarious trill that singer Ari Up applies to Marvin Gaye's famous high note. "I heard it through the bassline," the Slits sing a little later, and that's the way they've reconstructed the song: from the bottom up.