The latest project from Berlin-based Scot Danny Berman (best known for his house productions as Red Rack'em), Hot Coins is a band that riffs on the cross-pollination of post-punk, disco and Euro electro which inspired a brief period of wild creativity in New York, circa 1979. Making like the lost link between Liquid Liquid and Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Berman's collective—which includes members of Crazy P and the vocalist City Hayes—lovingly recreate an era in which, improbably, you could have caught Grandmaster Flash, ESG and The Clash all playing on the same downtown Manhattan club bill.
Trouble is, we've been here before. And not just in 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, a slew of reissues from the label ZE and compilations such as Gomma's Anti-NY and Strut's Disco Not Disco examined that period forensically, inspiring a new generation to fuse dance music and scratchy art-rock. Labels like Output and DFA, and bands as diverse as Colder, New Young Pony Club, Spektrum and Franz Ferdinand, were all invigorated by the idea of playing funk like punks. It was pivotal moment in recent music history.
Six years on, what do Hot Coins add? Not a lot. At its best, punk-funk, of whatever vintage, is raw and intense music, teetering, if only in a faux-naif way, on the brink of collapse. Berman, however (like Trevor Jackson's Playgroup, who pulled it off with far greater playfulness), seems to be more interested in that point where NY art-funk went overground, its deviant spirit seeping into pop/rock albums made by Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club and even the Rolling Stones, at the legendary Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas.
The Damage Is Done was mixed on a vintage desk used on both Public Image Limited's Metal Box and Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight," which is a neat pointer to its good and bad sides, its yin and its awful '80s yacht-rock yang. At its best, in "Geek Emotions," the nagging, insidious "The Only Way" and jittery stand-out "Foxxy," Hot Coins create a pleasantly dank atmosphere: a sonically strung-out world of troubled nightlife creatures for whom clubland is an existential crisis. Elsewhere, though, punk gives way to polite jazz-funk—"Blizzard" is more Gilles Peterson than Gang Of Four—and ugly retro flourishes. "Leathered" is curiously noisy, but you may struggle to get past its cheesy Balearic pianos and its attempt to bring back the slap bass. Likewise, "I Ching" and "Roadtrip" are disfigured by the sort of squally FM rock axe work that in a sane world would be sealed in lead and buried at sea. Forever.