The scampy dance collection Unclassics: Obscure Electronic Funk & Disco 1978-1985 presents tracks that once showed up on international dancefloors and charts. The set is compiled and mixed, as well as lightly re-produced here and there, by Morgan Geist, who, as the liner note maintains, understands that these are “weird tracks that remain too earnest to be pure camp, yet are too ‘out there’ to be considered serious.”
The CD is programmed to dart and soar and jump and relax as a DJ set strong on melody. The sequence crests on a Canadian ’84 instrumental, “We Can Make It” by Purple Flash Orchestra, that’s like New Order gone to heaven—and which turns out to move like Ravel, swing like Malibu, and glisten like Euro Disney. Yet Unclassics functions equally as a stellar anthology of electronic disco. The compilation argues that the familiar tracks of ’70s hall of famers (Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees) are now exactly as exciting and overexposed as the Beatles. So Geist offers something fresher, less vocal-determined, and spookier.
Most tracks inevitably read somehow as cute and boppy. The genius of Unclassics, though, is that it is not a collection of cute little boppy weird-disco tunes; unfailingly, Geist’s selections find Italians, Russians, Canadians, and others using low disco to attain distinguished results. The effects are rarely achieved with song lyrics or, for that matter, chords; these are songs in love with single-note synth melodies leanly phrased and recorded. They take dulcet neon-analog shape in the air above the beats as though they were previously silenced singers who’d just commandeered microphones and burst free. In Zodiac’s “Pacific,” an ’80s Russian hit, the synth begins with a meek chirp, then keeps going until it streams with a fine athletic confidence; in Pluton & Humanoids’ “World Invaders”—a key track that DJ IF included on his great Mixed Up in the Hague a few years back—a vocoderized chorale warns about something ominous so urgently, against thrashy underlying beats, that the piece comes to be about the anxiety of warnings themselves. Unclassics is not Eurodisco lost in its own obscurity. It upends the rule book of taste.