Music

Bright Lights, Big Ass Bore: The 47th Annual Grammy Awards

Terry Sawyer

The guitarist from Franz Ferdinand tried to segue into 'Take Me Out' with Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas air-freaking him while dressed like a Wall Street Broker after your Lucky Charms.


Kayne West performs "Jesus Walks" during the 2005 Grammy Awards.

Let me first say that this year's Grammy Awards probably did more to recoup the statuette's image than any previous year when it was granted to embarrassing D.O.A. pop trash, so artistically bereft that even future kitsch revivals won't dare resurrect former winners even for the good wink of hipster sarcasm.

Though the Grammys still represent commercialism at its most whorish, I applaud the happy accidents of some of this year's nominees. Pop music just seems to be getting better, or at least the Kanye Wests and Franz Ferdinands help balance blights like Jennifer Lopez and Hoobastank. But whatever assets the awards might have managed beforehand, the show squandered in a painful three-hour bloat.

For the definitive case against the 2005 Grammys, one need look no further than its Broadway belch of an intro, stitched together by some mad methed-out queer. Several nominees butchered their entries by making all the choruses dry hump each other surrounded by dancey-handed choreography. Gwen Stefani, once again framed by her back-up Asians, looked like a hobo pirate hooker next to Eve, whose outfit might have been used to wrap expensive Easter chocolate.

We don't need the actual songs apparently, just the catchy bits, just the guitarist from Franz Ferdinand trying to segue into "Take Me Out" with Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas air-freaking him while dressed like a Wall Street Broker after your Lucky Charms. And yet, the distillation of Maroon 5's "This Love" made perfect sense. After all, we've heard that tune so many fucking times that only the chorus still produces mild, involuntary pleasure. Los Lonely Boys seemed the most poorly served by this scattershot format: stuck out on an audience platform without girls shaking their money-makers, their performance seemed too much about the music.

I wish I could say these flat-footed moments were few and far between. Queen Latifah seemed perpetually out of sync in the hostess role, reined in to the point of sounding like a pandering imitation of herself when she dropped skidding phrases like "da bomb." Even her clothes were wrong, a My Little Pony vision of femininity, where being big and beautiful remains so shameful that you have to have your belt chafing your armpits. Like the neck-popping sista roles thrust on her by Hollywood writers sticking two fingers down their throats, her Grammy role was an insult pretending to be a compliment. She was positively entertaining, though, compared to John Travolta and Matthew McConaughey, who presented awards while dropping mentions of their forthcoming blockbuster shit bombs, turning themselves into the world's tackiest product placements. Perhaps next year, the actors can show clips. As long as it spares us some teleprompted chit chat, I'm game.

Music should be the saving grace of this show and, to the extent that this fat bore granted any reprieves, it was. Green Day, a band I don't even listen to, put on the tightest set of the night, smashing out an edited version of "American Idiot" with enough fury to make me actually stir on the couch. Melissa Etheridge, defiantly and beautifully sporting her cancer baldness, ripped through her Janis Joplin tribute, a cover of "Piece of My Heart," not the least bit impeded by Joss Stone flitting about barefooted. Even Kanye West's tent-revivalist version of "Jesus Walks" conjured a certain uplifting overkill, reminiscent of Puff Daddy's extravagant eulogy for Biggie Smalls on the MTV Music Awards. But for every moment when this self-congratulatory pageant managed to pierce my impending coma, there were four more performances that took a whipping strap to the goddess of good judgment.

Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez performed their duet, "Escapémonos," which for some reason reminded me of the song Fievel sang from the gutter in An American Tail. They played house on stage, she combed her hair, and I wondered aloud how long this ballad-massacre could last. In my Grammys, the bed would be on fire and her exes would fall from the ceiling like a rain of bad decisions, in order to perform one or two of the song's 50-odd verses. This soap opera audition will surely resurface in the divorce proceedings as a low point for all involved.

But that pairing wasn't the half of it. If the all-star country jam featuring Gretchen Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Tim McGraw were offered on a jukebox in a redneck bar, everyone would have opened fire for mercy's sake. Have these people even heard "Ramblin' Man"? I hope to God everyone was drunk because that would be the only excuse for the sloppy playing and cowboy hats with stapled-on crucifixes that resembled nothing so much as stolen hood ornaments. Is this the kind of concession we must make to the red states? It's not worth it, people. Let them watch the WB. One lousy Jackson tit and we're stuck prying Lynyrd Skynyrd out of their crypt to honor them for keeping the Civil War alive.

By hour three, I pulled out the Pledge because I noticed my shelves could use a good once-over. The low point came with John Mayer performing "Daughters," whose only redeeming quality is that it might possibly replace "Butterfly Kisses" as the staple for the father-bride dance at weddings. It was the only point in the evening not interrupted by Cirque du Soleil, balls of rising fire, or five other songs crammed around its edges. Sadists: this show is designed by kitten-burning, baby-drowning sadists.

Just so, the much-touted tsunami relief number -- a motley cover of "Across the Universe" -- had Norah Jones' smoky exhale rubbing against Scott Weiland's best approximation of vocal cords frying in a lard-filled skillet. One can almost hear the phone calls between agents declaring that Steven Tyler and Stevie Wonder have been wanting to do a project together for years. My only regret is that a sample of John Lennon screaming from his coffin couldn't be spliced into the background. Leave it to the theologians to parse out why bad things happen to good causes.

What the fuck is it with the Grammy medley? Are you trying to tell me that Mavis Staples, John Legend, Alicia Keys or Kanye West can't hold our interest for the duration of a whole song? Medleys are for cruise ships, amusement park gazebo shows, and Beach Boys concerts where the lead-off is "Kokomo." It doesn't speak well of the Grammys' credibility that its producers shotgun-marry songs and mash up the hooks, implying the only important part of a song is the one that gets stuck in your head.

All this to say that I'm not convinced television can capture live music. The music video seems a concession to this point, faithfully reproducing the album sound, coupled with diverting images. The more massive and shouty the musical numbers, the more I noticed how flat music sounds on television. Even the best performances, cut into a thousand multi-angled frames, felt sapped, string together like one big "you had to be there" tease.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, they handed out some awards every once in a while. Green Day won for a record maligning the evil fool in the White House. Maroon 5 beat Kanye West for Best New Artist and they stopped to hug him by way of apology and then thanked him for being "unbelievable" from the stage. Maybe they can pry off the name plate too. John Mayer forgot to nod to Kanye when he won "Song of the Year" for the insufferable "Daughters." And I guess we've forgiven Jerry Lee Lewis for fucking his preteen cousin, as he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. During the Bush era, no less. God is good. If you need a blow-by-blow for the various winners, get on the Grammys website because sometime in the night I started folding my boxers and boiling tea water.

Like most awards shows, the Grammys is a showcase for an industry determined to spew its own narcissism into the wider culture. Some corporate music group gives cash cows and a few stray notables statues once a year in an overblown yawn of flashing lights, forgettable performances, and grocery-list thank-yous where pop stars get a chance to thank God for favoring them amongst all the losers without platinum records. Next year, producers might begin by firing the writers and asking a few of the musicians to just give up at last, for the sake of mankind and future tsunami victims everywhere.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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