DJDS (then DJ Dodger Stadium) released their debut album Friend Of Mine in the summer of 2014. It was a perfect summer record, full of always-building heat and songs obscure and unspecific enough to wrap around your own stories. There was nothing unspecific about the album’s intention though; it reimagined dance, house, and techno into a quickly-rising third thing, a pop-ready palette of emotion that went beyond the drop and the build before it. Friend Of Mine was spearheaded by the buoyant-but-somehow-lonely “Love Songs,” a fusion of an underwater gospel choir and the inescapable thrum of skittering beats that are inextricably tied to EDM’s build and release. Sonics aside, the song was interesting because it was an anthem of solitude that managed to reach the skyscraping thrills generally reserved for declarative romance. That’s a complex feat for any song, let alone a genre often maligned (sometimes wrongly) for songs that revolve around mindless hedonism.
If you listen to the duo’s almost entirely instrumental EP Stadium Status, from 2011, and compare it to Friend Of Mine, you can hear the mindful, precise progression toward something emotionally vulnerable. Adding lyrics feels like a necessary part of that expansion, and their newest album Stand Up And Speak continues to follow that trajectory, arching sampled vocal bits, beats, and hooky melodies toward something aching, confident and defiant. The duo told Billboard that they were specifically seeking to push themselves on Stand Up And Speak, and that meant incorporating new samples and new vocals, then translating it all back into their own stippled electronic language. There is a grammar to DJDS songs and they operate within their own linguistic bounds, a fact that seems further amplified by seeing them live; Sam Griesemer and Jerome Potter are in an eternal conversation with one another, even as they perform songs long solidified in form and shape.
That’s why it feels more like gorgeous marginalia when they parse songs like Adele’s “Hello” or Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” They’re not quite remixes, they’re certainly not covers, but there’s something more here. In an age where almost anyone has access to the tools necessary to alter and create music digitally, these kinds of musical collages will evolve past Girl Talk’s jackhammer snippeting, and become a genre in their own right. This process reminds me of the way photographs are copies of reality, one step removed from what they portray. Check out any of the other artists on Griesemer and Potter’s joint label Body High, and you’ll find artists manipulating sound, space and recording in similarly subversive ways.
For now, Stand Up And Speak is one of the best electronic albums you’ll hear this year. I was worried there would never be a song that rivaled “Love Songs,” but that was before I heard “I Don’t Love You” — hate as relief, or just sweet release in apathy. I can’t remember the last time a song about changing your mind felt this profound. Of course, at the core, Stand Up And Speak is about feelings, and the marvel is that Greisemer and Potter are rendering them in a way that feels very new. Take “You Don’t Have To Be Alone,” which isn’t a love song, but a welcome reminder that our solitude is often self-imposed, our loneliness can also be a construct we hide behind. These songs work like mirrors, reflecting back the best and worst parts of ourselves, providing relief and confrontation across an emotional electronic landscape that any listener can place themselves in. Instead of EDM’s endless pursuit of pleasure — the blank canvas — these songs seek to communicate deep philosophical and spiritual beliefs. In fact, they’re almost meditative, like the reflective and apocalyptic title track. But whatever turmoil unfolds over the record, it’s clearly bookended with opening and closing tracks “One Good Thing” and “Found.” The same narrator yearns initially for one good thing, before declaring that in losing it, he’s found himself. That’s a parable as old as time, but DJDS are making new ears listen.