The Upper Cuts album cover
The Upper Cuts

Various Artists , Alan Braxe , Fred Falke

Smugglers Way

Stardust’s one-off 1998 single “Music Sounds Better With You” is widely and rightly considered one of the great masterpieces of French house, a deceptively simple sample flip of 1981 Chaka Khan classic “Fate” that singer Benjamin Diamond gave an indelible new voice to. And while the involvement of Thomas Bangalter gave it a bit of a boost thanks to Daft Punk’s recent success, it was in tandem with Alan Braxe, who’d just scored an early entry in the catalogue of Bangalter’s Roulé label with 1997’s choppy-yet-slippery “Vertigo.” Braxe’s reputation as one of the undersung yet pivotal architects of the French house sound is given a strong showing on The Upper Cuts, a collection of singles, remixes, and collaborations (particularly with frequent collaborator Fred Falke) that exhibit how effective he is at getting a lot from a little. It’s as though he’s able to zone in on a snippet of sound that holds a familiar weight — an infectious arpeggio, some glowing analog-synth chords, a kick/snare pattern that pushes rhythms forward with intricate yet efficient momentum — and ride it until it transforms from a loose evocation of retro-disco tropes into a sense-memory-driven sweep of emotion-stirring warmth. In pop mode, it’s giddy with joy; his remix of Shakedown’s 2002 house smash “At Night” is such an effective conflation of early synth-disco, Hi-NRG, synthpop, and house that it’s beside the point to even dissect its lineage when the impact is so direct. (The ascent to the moment where Terra Deva’s voice finally emerges after nearly three minutes of build — whew.) And his collabs with Falke — the chuckling arpeggios of “Most Wanted”; the faux-live Cerrone in Concert new wave flirtation of “Arena”; the stargazing cousin to Daft Punk’s “Voyager” that is “Palladium” —  are total floor-fillers. One even gives “Music Sounds Better With You” an unlikely run for its money:  the soaring choirs of the innocuously-titled “Intro,” sourced from the Jets’ “Crush On You” and phased until they melt, might be the most disarmingly pretty sound on any track to emerge out of French house’s first wave, all while Falke’s bassline drops in to give that disco kick-clap rhythm the touch of god.

Nate Patrin

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