Lifestyles of the Rhythm

Dance Music Accesses an Unseparatist Pop Sensibility

The cover of the current Hôtel Costes Quatre (MSI Music) depicts the backlit gorgeous face of a young woman with Chanel lips, her eyes covered by her hands, themselves covered by a pair of artfully designed and crafted light-gray leather gloves. The Costes music, which in the past hasn't hesitated to put frisky Yves Montand and Shirley Bassey remixes next to plushly pop-minded new French dance stuff, extols the virtues of things like "London in the Rain" (done by Variety Lab) and pet ownership (as in the Method's "I've Got a Cat"). Pompougnac likes comfortable vistas of rhythm wherever he can get them: guitars, strings, keyboards, as well as the usual tech-percussion overlays. The tone approximates that of stereo recording during the high hi-fi-'50s moment, but without any of the Esquivel-style shrillness; Pompougnac is as much of a midrange freak as, say, the dudes in Massive Attack. Which of course only echoes his stylistic bent: Where a soul hound like Dmitiri of Paris says, "Let's party!" and Belgian brainiacs like Autechre respond with a dour "I don't think so," Pompougnac at Hôtel Costes isn't even in the conversation; he just steers his own hip-classic way, saying much in the process about the sheer pleasure and materiality of sound.

The Naked Music label offers several series of a similar yet more r&b stripe, minus the Paris provenance. Their ambition, in fact, is much more Pottery Barn: While steadying a dependable and professional air, these enjoyable albums provide unfailingly soulful dance music for your unfailingly soulful living room. Having softly unleashed, the past few years, volumes of their Nude Dimensionsand Bare Essentials, in which remixer Miguel Migs sequenced track after track of music keyed to a flowingly sung quiet-storm underlaid with easy-grooving lite-jazzy dance pulses, Naked has now released Miguel Migs: Nude Tempo One.

The music has the stress level of '70s Burt Bacharach film scores, which is to say intentionally low; the apparent complication of a Patrice Rushen track, which is to say hardly none; and the sweet-harmonic appetite of Philly Soul, which is to say high. Packaged, as are most Naked releases, Emanuelle-like, with super softcore color cartoons of sensuous women hosting the dance music inside, these releases are the other side of the world from the sonic dancefloor laboratories of prog-trance. Although the Nude Tempo Oneset has its Latin flourishes that flower in a track like Batidos's "Tengo Sed (Ron Trent Dub Mix)," more typical is something like Louis Benedetti featuring David Ruffin Jr.'s "Show You My Love (Dub)." It's old-school vocal-group soul and groove riding and hot-tub jazz all seamlessly and subtly aligned to produce an all-mixed-up integration of motion, motion, and more motion.

But sometimes a lifestyle is just what exists in people's heads. Indie rockers rarely master dance music, but for Rinôçérôse—Jean-Philippe Freu and Patrice "Patou" Carrie, husband and wife from Montpellier, France—the move from brainy crunch to brainy luxe seems no more prohibitive than the couple's professional standing as psychology professors; it's as though, for Freu and Carrie, all music was meant to evolve into witty and expansive, inevitably loquacious, seriously guitar-accented disco. On Music Kills Me (V2), the even more fluent successor to their impressive 1999 Installation Sonoredebut, Rinôçérôse lead with a tune ("Le Rock Summer") so string-laden and melodic—so disco-mad—that only the dance-crazed French, right now, might have assembled it this adamantly. Turns out, that's the overstated overture to their chewy Moby-blues, reimagined TV themes, kinetic Africanisms, and uncanny Womack & Womack soul. All of which are, for Rinôçérôse and so much current dance music, less problems to be solved than pleasure to be heard.

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