The Free Design: The Now Sound Redesigned
Light in the Attic

With The Free Design Redesigned series, Light In The Attic Records has devised a clever strategy for luring listeners back to The Free Design's 1967-72 era. Unlike the ‘60s music of The Beach Boys and The Beatles, the sunny, psychedelic lounge music created by the four Dedrick siblings (Chris, Bruce, Ellen, and Sandy) gradually faded into obscurity until producers, DJs, and vinyl obsessives rediscovered the group in recent years and artists like Beck and Belle & Sebastian began crediting the band as an influence. Eventually the label decided to not only re-issue the group's entire back catalog but sweeten the deal with a series of remixes and new interpretations by an impressive coterie of contemporary artists.

The disc combines two previously-issued vinyl releases and three new songs, with Nobody (Elvin Estela) mixing and sequencing thirteen tracks and six interludes into an hour-long travelogue. Add heavenly harmonies and infectious melodies to a musical style that suggests a conflation of The Byrds, The Fifth Dimension, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Jefferson Airplane and what results is something akin to what Stereolab might have sounded like had it appeared in 1969 (Stereolab fans will already know that one of its songs was named after the earlier group). The Free Design Redesigned is far from stylistically one-dimensional, though, with sweet pop offset by hip-hop-inflected outings and psychedelic post-rock excursions.

Madlib appears to leave “Where Do I Go” largely intact aside from updating it with punchy funk-flavoured rhythms. Elsewhere, a lazy hip-hop flow pervades Koushik & Dudley Perkins's “Don't Cry Baby” while Grey Album mastermind Danger Mouse & Def Jux's Murs join forces on the unreleased track “To A Black Boy” (Murs' lyrics recount the trials of Marcus Dixon, an 18 year-old African-American student from Georgia who was sentenced to ten years for having sex with a 15 year-old white girl). A sombre trip-hop feel dominates “An Elegy,” a collaboration between turntablist Kid Koala and Beastie Boys and Modest Mouse remixer Dynomite D that memorializes Dwight Dedrick, killed in Vietnam in 1968. Mellow's “Kites Are Fun,” on the other hand, is largely a psychedelic post-rock instrumental while Caribou (Dan Snaith) ends the album with a free-styled instrumental raveup bursting with rattling bells, flutes, horns, and flailing drums.

On the poppier tip, Stereolab and High Llamas (Sean O'Hagan) collaborate on a delightful “Harve Daley Hix” (which actually merges five or six songs into one). Equally strong is “Don't Turn Away” where Sharpshooters pair a slow hypnotic groove with the song's dreamy vocals and gentle horns while Peanut Butter Wolf's “Umbrellas” brings forth the group's soul-jazz side (and even finds room for a subtle dose of Steve Miller's “Fly Like An Eagle”). To these ears, the album peak arrives with the Styrofoam-Sarah Shannon collab “I Found Love” whose majestic arrangement, beautiful melodies, and heavenly male and female vocals combine to create three minutes and forty-nine seconds of effervescent pop bliss.

July 2005