Compared to what?

A remake of “Compared to What?” starts the new David Holmes record with Harlem poet Carl Rux demanding that his audience figure out what it actually means “to make it real.” Underneath the bass rhythm and piano riffs, Rux accuses: “We’re all chicken feathers/without one gut!” As it was when Les McCann and Eddie Harris did it more than 30 years ago, the song’s object is a moral, as well as a physical, revolution. While laying down its litany, it demands to know what is (should be) right. “Try to make it real/(but) compared to what?”

For David Holmes, Out of Sight sound track producer and anarcho-dance floor fugitive, Bow Down to the Exit Sign is that search for a revolutionary “real” in the midst of debilitating chaos. By filtering through the sounds and prejudices of the urban street parade — drug jive, street talk, motherfucker-punctuated black nationalist fervor, and Mayor Daly justifying police brutality at the ’68 Democratic convention — Holmes makes a sonic argument as to what “real” order might look like.

The voice of the argument is shared by a number of guest vocalists including Jon Spencer, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Martina Toppley-Bird (Tricky’s unemployed chanteuse) and the aforementioned Rux. Spencer’s track (“Bad Thing”) and Gillespie’s two tracks (“Sick City” and “Slip Your Skin”) are all raw power-politico demands filtered through the guise of multilayered garage-funk. Toppley-Bird and Rux’s pieces further the tirade with Rux’s gospel roll call of free-jazz legends in “Living Room,” and Toppley-Bird’s evil-Holiday anti-love song, “Zero Tolerance,” raising the album’s stakes.

But it’s not all piss and vinegar. Former DJ and producer Holmes already assumes that there is an audience — or a more exactly, a dance floor — to be moved. Getting them together for four sides of wax means disturbing the unnatural balance of drugs, pushing, desperation and apathy, with a blast of what it’s never been allowed: beauty.

And what is beauty for Holmes? The album’s head-bobbing big beat instrumentals, “69 Police” and the glorious outro, “Hey Lisa.” Here, among the bass and strings, negation is topped with possibility and we hear Holmes gazing out across the urban expanse to size up both the battle and the splendor. Catharsis.

Carleton S. Gholz writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].

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