Music

Caroline Peyton: Mock Up / Intuition

Recent reissues position '70s folkie Caroline Peyton as an undiscovered treasure, but she's more a performer of unrealized potential.


Caroline Peyton

Mock Up

US release: 2009-01-27
UK release: 2009-03-02
Label: The Numero Group
Amazon
iTunes

Caroline Peyton

Intuition

US release: 2009-01-27
Label: The Numero Group
UK release: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Bloomington, Indiana in 1972. It is seldom listed among the most groundbreaking music scenes: Detroit in 1962, New York in 1976, Minneapolis in 1982, Seattle in 1989. But while the coasts were putting the hippie dream to bed, it was still burning bright in supposedly behind-the-times pockets of the Midwest. And it was inspiring some unholy unions, such as that of Caroline Peyton, vocally gifted goddaughter of William Styron who turned down acceptance to the Boston Conservatory of Music to immerse herself among Bloomington’s musical bohos, and Mark Bingham, a jazz-and-acid-but-not-acid-jazz aficionado who was fired as an Elektra Records’ in-house songwriter, allegedly for not being commercial enough. Ejected from California back to Bloomington, Bingham helped found the Screaming Gypsy Bandits, an offbeat experimental collective that was more about music-backed freak-outs than actual music, and would puzzle and repel most of today’s freak-folk proprietors. Peyton and Bingham met at the Needmore Commune where they were both residing, and they quickly became lovers and mutual muses. Quite fortuitously, Needmore’s well-off owner was throwing some, but not enough, of her money into a fly-by-night upstart record label, meant to document the frazzled sounds coming out of Bloomingdale. The label had no staff or promotion. It is telling that its anticipated first release, a Screaming Gypsy Bandits record, was scrapped because the band could not muster enough sobriety to record.

Instead, Bar-B-Q debuted with Caroline Peyton’s Mock Up in 1972, shortly after Peyton and Bingham returned from a hitchhiked road trip to California, a failed attempt to make music industry contacts. Mock Up validates their boho mythology: one can imagine Peyton not hitchhiking, but twirling her way to the Golden State, her frilly, ankle-length dress scraping along dusty desert roads, Bingham literally tripping a few steps behind. With Peyton singing and playing guitar, Bingham producing and writing, and all sorts of Bloomington buddies jamming along, most notably versatile pianist Mark Gray, whose shimmering chords enliven the weaker moments, Mock Up can today be seen as a historical snapshot of the Bloomington scene. Unfortunately, it is fascinating more as history than as music, as the record is infuriatingly uneven, often dull, occasionally excruciating. With no commercial aspirations in mind, Bingham and Peyton refused to check their indulgent tendencies at the door: “Bill Monroe” is two horrendous minutes of various animal noises, bound to terrify its namesake, and “Don Beggs” overpowers the listener with obnoxious glass-shattering operatics.

Too many songs -- most notably the opener “The Sky in Japan is Always Close to You” -- are plodding and pale Joni Mitchell imitations. In fact, Peyton almost prophetically predicts Mitchell’s eventual jazz fixation. Mark Bingham is a proud jazzbo, and his compositions owe more to jazz experimentalism than pop formula. While an interesting conceit for music theorists, for the average pop listener, it drags the songs into the muck. Only when the songs get upbeat and funky do Peyton and Bingham deliver any serious energy. “Pull” and “Sweet Misery” are steamy Peyton & Bingham duets, where the funky, wild sexual tension is palpable. Peyton’s voice could convey exquisite sexiness, but aside from a couple provocative lines -- “I’ll pull it right out of my pants”, “Dreamed and schemed and creamed in my jeans” -- she’s more content to sound like a wigged-out Judy Collins, singing Bingham’s hallucinatory non sequiturs with a conviction they do not merit, as if they mean something. Mock Up, like acid-freak creations before and since, has moments of exquisite beauty and obnoxious indulgence. But even with most of its songs achieving some sort of structure or listenability, it is at best an acquired taste for a limited audience, and at worst, a druggy mess that encapsulates every pejorative association attached to the word “hippie”.

Mock Up’s failure, it should be noted, is more Bingham’s than Peyton’s. Peyton is a phenomenal singer: her voice a multi-octave, scale-soaring instrument. But Bingham’s material sells her short. Nevertheless, Mock Up’s potential scored Peyton, Bingham, and Gray an ultimately unsuccessful audition for Clive Davis. After a sojourn in Albany, Peyton and Bingham found themselves back in Bloomington, their romantic relationship over but the professional relationship inexplicably persevering. Out of this ennui came Intuition, a record begun in 1974 but not completed until 1977, a far cry from the two weeks it took to knock out Mock Up. The extra time evinces Intuition’s commercial bent, detectable from the slick guitar chords that open the album. This is Peyton’s bid to be a pop star, one in the vein of Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, or Bonnie Raitt. She had the voice for it: after five years, her voice was more controlled and melodious, free of the showoffish, freaky affectations that marred Mock Up’s most off-putting moments. She offers a light-hearted twangy lilt to “Still with You”, her catchiest song by a mile, and slays soulful blues numbers like “Together” and “Donkey Blues”. Even her folk ballads (“Call of the Wild”, “Light Years”) are more lucid than the knotty, murky performances on Mock Up.

But there is still a sense that the material is lacking. Despite his increasing involvement in other projects, and decreasing involvement in Peyton’s romantic life (she eventually married), Bingham once and again wrote and produced the album, and the pop songsmith hat, as Elektra founder Jac Holzman had noticed a decade earlier, doesn’t really fit him. Bingham’s songwriting is still too unfocused to sell Peyton’s remarkable voice, which would better suit more streamlined pop fare. His compositions seem bored with themselves, as though embarrassed by this trite pop exercise, nowhere more so than the bandwagon hopping disco cut “Party Line”. On Intuition, he prizes an almost knowing blandness over jazz-folk ethereality, and the result is a more accessible but almost equally disappointing record.

Alas, Intuition was recorded in Indiana, and released on Bar-B-Q. Thus, its pop aspirations were little more than wishful thinking: despite a write-up in Rolling Stone, the disc tanked, and Bar-B-Q folded shortly after. Both Peyton and Bingham took the more mercenary routes to success that so enamored thirtysomething hippies as the ‘80s dawned: Peyton as a theatre performer and Disney vocalist, Bingham as a working songwriter. But musical movements are a cyclical beast, and with experimental hippie folkies once again a hot property for independent labels, it is an opportune era for Peyton reissues.

In the hope that the Banhart-and-Newsom-nation will anoint Peyton the next undiscovered treasure of yesteryear, the Numero Group has reissued her two ‘70s albums with extensive, insightful liner notes courtesy of Edd Hurt, a generous supply of photos, and of course, extra tracks. Those on Mock Up are worthless. “Breathe”, a live Screaming Gypsy Bandits recording, affirms that Bingham did indeed abandon many of his worst excesses for the recording of Mock Up. It is a monotonous, endless eight-minute dronefest guaranteed to clear a room faster than Metal Machine Music. And “White Teeth” is a blathering tabla-and-sitar workout that takes a long time to do nothing. But perhaps the saddest afterword to these overlooked discs are the Intuition outtakes, which include “Shake Down”, a robbery narrative that marks Bingham’s most sustained lyric and Peyton’s toughest vocal (why it was omitted from the album is a lingering question), and five acoustic demos of non-Bingham songs. Unsurprisingly, these offer a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been, had Peyton cut the ties with Bingham earlier. Peyton’s own songs, especially the beguiling “Mother Nature’s Deal” and the moving “Try to Be True”, are gorgeous meditations on life and love that would have easily earned her a spot among the California singer-songwriter set, free of the meandering defiance of form that tripped up Bingham.

Honestly, it is difficult to imagine these recordings finding many new fans today: Peyton’s music is strictly of its time and place, and only rarely transcends that. Thus, listening to these albums is like pining through library archives on some vast research project: it’s informative, occasionally compelling, seldom fun. Without the commune backdrop or the copious drug consumption that informed their creation, Mock Up and Intuition are tough to enjoy, and if they live on at all, they will do so only as curiosities.

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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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