At the center of DJ Dodger Stadium's frantic, mesmerizing debut full length, "Friend of Mine," is loop-heavy, joyously thumpy house music, the kind with nonstop four-on-the-floor stomp that helped birth what's now known as electronic dance music. An eternally optimistic genre, its natural habitat is on sweaty, crowded dance floors, where communal bliss can give rise to profoundly emotional moments.
"Friend of Mine," though, upends house's central emotional conceit. Produced by the team of Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL, whose excellent imprint Body High has helped make Los Angeles an underground house hot spot based on its rethinking of Chicago's '80s and '90s house scene, Dodger Stadium's 10 songs use classic tools of the genre to explore post-weekend darkness.
An album that Samo described to Fader magazine as being "about heartbreak and the hypnotic loneliness of Los Angeles," "Friend of Mine" taps the genre's repetitive propulsion and synthetic tones while heading somewhere else entirely.
The glummest of its titles are revealing, even if they don't tell the full story: "The Bottom Is As Low As You Can Go," "Never Win," "One Who Lost." Each is a fresh looped-based construction, one in which levels of sound are built in four-, eight- and 16-bar increments.
Most of the tracks follow a similar template, one that introduces itself on "Love Songs," the record's exhilarating debut single. A six-plus minute wind sprint devoid of verses or choruses, it's based on the female-voiced, layered repetition of a simple phrase and accompanied by 130 beats-per-minute rhythm.
"Lately I've been singing love songs to myself," the voices sing, revealing themselves in the opening like a summer sunrise, muffled and withdrawn at first. Gradually the sonic dynamics of the phrase lift as midrange and treble fade in, adding light and optimism to the lyric while musical layers accrue. Here, the relentless bump of a digital kick drum. There, a synthetic drip, one that echoes at random increments. Hissing high hats fly by, injecting the momentum with an amphetamine buzz.
Then, a break, a moment of silence, a grand epiphany.
Throughout the album, the duo build vertically rather than horizontally, less concerned with intricate accents than uninhibited heights. As such, it's not for the impatient, or anyone whose idea of a good track involves structural variety or a scream-along chorus. Many of the repetitions here endure for longer than one might think necessary, at least if heard in a pop music context. But if experienced as mantras, each is hypnotic.
At its best, "Friend" feels like a house music exploration a la Steve Reich's work "It's Gonna Rain" or Gavin Bryars' mesmerizing hour-long Tom Waits-featuring loop, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." In those pieces, as in this record, something different happens when you get lost in loops and give in to the swirl of repetition.
What's most striking, though, is Dodger Stadium's willingness to travel in downward spirals. Rather than focus on house music's love of uplifting, optimistic vocal hooks, the phrases on "Friend of Mine" explore psychic basements. "Never Win" obsesses over a vocal hook of "Never win, I know you'll never win" before ceding to a bellowed female response. "Memory Lane" thumps deeply while synthetic sounds that might be moaning roam the bottom. A woodwind-sounding melody repeats every four bars at a steady 126 beats-per-minute clip.
Just like a great dancefloor banger, the whole of "Friend of Mine" has its own macro-break two-thirds of the way through, a wicked bit of ambiance called "Sit Down, Satan." Featuring sampled pipe organ and haunting, cavernous voices, the interlude is a welcome pit stop on an otherwise frenetic, and exhilarating, work.
DJ Dodger Stadium
"Friend of Mine"
3.5 stars out of four