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Playgroup: Playgroup

Album: Playgroup
Label: Astralwerks

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With an increasingly substantial history taking shape behind it, dance music has been charging hard into nostalgia, especially when it comes to the 1980s. Still ripe for imaginative revision, the decade resides at the root of the fashion-friendly new-electro movement, as well as the nameless gerrymandering memorialized on Playgroup's self-titled debut. Helmed by British producer Trevor Jackson, Playgroup reworks the kind of inspired fusion best heard on the two recent volumes of Disco Not Disco, a compilation series devoted to the post-disco underground of New York, where tracks by Liquid Liquid, Can, and The Clash played in clubs unhindered by racial and stylistic divisiveness. Jackson recreates the all-inclusive mood with a rangy cast of vocalists and a mix-tape ethos that smears the lines separating funk, hip-hop, house, and post-punk. The album favors songs over tracks, taking a rewind approach to a time before dance music took on dutifully functional connotations. "Front 2 Back," featuring rapper KC Flightt, is a vision of body-rock romanticism built around old-school rhyming and funky cowbell swing. "Bring It On" casts Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna as a post-punk shouter slinging empowerment over a sepia-toned bass groove. Much of Playgroup hides its history behind textbook Astralwerks-brand electronica, but certain alchemic moments (the slinky hi-hat compression and sax solo of "Make It Happen," the Billy Ocean-like melody of "Hideaway") summon an inspiringly messy past too enthralled by the present to waste time on the future.