In the early years of sampling, DJs and producers mostly looped recognizable snippets of popular songs. Now they cut snippets out of those snippets, building entirely new melodies. It's a more creative approach, but not as satisfying for pop fans who preferred the smart framing of old tunes in new contexts. On last year's highly touted The Grey Album, DJ Danger Mouse set Jay-Z's rhymes to nearly unidentifiable Beatles fragments, disappointing those hoping for a true mash-up. Now Lemon Jelly, with its new'64-'95, promises a dizzying barrage of transgenerational pop sound assembled from songs recorded between 1965 and 1995. What the band delivers is just another conventional modern DJ album.
Granted, '64-'95 is a pretty good conventional modern DJ album. The nimble "'68 AKA Only Time" and "'75 AKA Stay With You" put forth a lively mix of pulsing rhythm and mad-scientist effects, and the up-with-people soul wizardry of "'95 AKA Make Things Right" has an encouraging (though inconsequential) vibe. But none of the samples really evoke the years in question, and Lemon Jelly doesn't put the years in any kind of relevant order, so the overall point of '64-'95 seems a little vague. Too much of the record consists of heavy-booted club tracks like "'88 AKA Come Down On Me" and "'79 AKA The Shouty Track," and without clear hooks to hang on to, the songs devolve into beat-crazy abstraction. It's good for dancing, but useless for semioticians.
The alternative to sampling is blatant recreationthe game played by Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings. Already a word-of-mouth sensation on the indie-club circuit, Jones and company perform an exultant brand of horn-pumped retro-funk, like James Brown's Famous Flames with Aretha Franklin at the helm. The band's second album, Naturally, builds on the skeletal groove and throwback atmosphere of its debut, Dap-Dippin', with Dap-Kings songwriter/theorist Bosco Mann adding a touch of Afro-beat on "How Do You Let A Good Man Down?", psychedelic soul strings on "Stranded In Your Love," and slow-dance twang on "You're Gonna Get It." Nothing about Naturally is particularly original, but the album is varied and vibrant, not a hollow imitation. The test for modern acts mired in throwback sounds is whether the music stands up to the source material, and by the time Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings gets to its stirring cover of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," the band has proved it might be even better. Without the aid of a single sample, The Dap-Kings makes the '70s dance music of a pop addict's dreams.