John Pugh may have quit dance-punk maestros !!! to focus on a mere side project, and Madeline Davy may design clothes when she’s not serving as Free Blood’s better half, but the duo mercifully avoids devolving into the trying-too-hard clusterfuck cynics might suspect would result. After years of wrecking NYC house parties with nothing more than a couple mics, a drum machine, and maybe a bass guitar, the pair decamped to the studio that their friends the Topolsky brothers had built in their closet in Greenpoint, and promptly decided to reconstruct their awkward-sex jams with mostly live rock instrumentation. A refusal to take the easy way out, coupled with an insistence that their music slap you on the ass and upside the head with equal force: That’s how you get a great band, and on the evidence of The Singles, Free Blood are well on their way.
The first 25 minutes of this loose compilation come as close to perfection as you could hope: Beginning with the subtly epic, chorusless journey “Never Hear Surf Music Again,” Pugh and Davy make sure you know you’re in good hands, veering off in all sorts of weird directions but always holding your attention nonetheless. They follow it up with “Quick and Painful” and “Grumpy,” their two most immediately insistent tunes, especially with Molly Schnick’s cello sawing away (putting one of the most compelling elements of the late lamented Out Hud to good use). Things get a bit weirder from there, but the frenzied “Parangatang” is probably the best song they’ve committed to hard drive yet, and although “Weekend Condition” pulses, twitches, and screams like an avant-garde freakout, it never stops being the kind of thing you’d want to play at a party.
The five remixes that make up the rest of The Singles aren’t bad by any stretch, but they all try to drag the band closer to conventional dance music, whereas the band’s power lies precisely in the way they already belong on the dance floor without overselling themselves or smoothing out their rougher edges. Free Blood evoke the very best 12-inch mixes from the golden days of the form: adventurous without ever neglecting the essentials pop and dance music rest on.