Music

Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock

Michael Hurley is the best folk singer the world has never heard of. Now at age 67, Hurley continues to prove with a new record why it is a shame you're still not listening.


Michael Hurley

Ida Con Snock

Label: Gnomonsong
US Release Date: 2009-10-09
UK Release Date: Import
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How many good records are put out by musicians and songwriters over the age of 60?

Think about it. What recent release by a card-carrying AARP elder emeritus of music are you rushing out to hear? If you read this site regularly, then the names can probably be counted on one hand. Tom Waits is a definite. Leonard Cohen? Maybe. Neil Young and his concept album about crude oil? Probably not. Bob Dylan? Well, despite the critical acclaim of whatever he touches, most of us aren’t listening to anything past Desire, if you even get that far. This isn’t ageism but a mere observation that interest in a songwriter’s musical output tends to lessen the older they get. Maybe that is a mistake though.

Take Michael Hurley, for example. His name certainly doesn’t carry much prestige or notoriety. Hell, you might not even know who this guy is. The music he has released in the autumn of his life, however, is arguably more consistently solid in comparison to the records recorded by the previously mentioned elite. Unlike the case often with those other more famous musicians in the 60+ crowd, Michael Hurley’s music is able to stand on its own rather than requiring a legacy to prop it up.

Despite the strength of Hurley’s reliable songwriting, his music over the years has mostly only caught the ear of a select niche of listeners who usually tend to take a heavy interest in the roots of folk and Americana. This is partially because of Hurley’s consistency in style over the years, choosing to stay true to the stripped down nature of folk music instead of exploring and expanding his sound into other genre-bending territories. The small number of listeners that Hurley attracts is also due to his strange past and rambling lifestyle. Despite recording his first release for the legendary Folkways label, earning critical acclaim for his work with the Holy Modal Rounders and having his songs covered by Cat Power and the Violent Femmes, Hurley has never considered music a feasible way to make a living. Thus, Hurley has spent his life traveling all over the country, working part-times jobs as a Christmas tree salesman and more recently as a painter, while randomly settling down long enough somewhere to record a few tunes.

These years, Hurley spends his time in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon which can explain the guest featured on his latest record Ida Con Snock. As the title suggest, the record was recorded with longtime Northwest blues-troupe Ida and also includes contributions from young, Northwest folk-revivalist Tara Jane O’Neil. 40 years after his first record, Michael Hurley hasn’t lost one bit of his ability to write comical, though often heartbreakingly melancholy songs. Leadoff track, “It Must Be Gelatine”, is a perfect example of Hurley’s style. The chorus of "If it taste like jelly / And it looks like jelly / Then it must be Gelatine" seems ridiculous out of context. Although, when accompanied by slow guitar picking and Hurley’s seasoned-voice, the song about a woman serious about her Jell-O comes off both silly and undeniably endearing. Within the unadorned lyrics and music lies a hopelessly romantic layman whom we can’t deny.

One of the most enchanting tracks on Ida Con Snock is "Going Steady" where Hurley wistfully laments the desire to go steady with a young, lady friend. The song’s lyrical content juxtaposed by Hurley’s weathered pipes makes for an unusual result that ultimately strengthens the tracks simplistic words and sparse arrangement. Maneuvering between a time of young naivety and a melancholy realism, the track proves to be both nostalgic and engagingly forlorn. Hurley isn’t afraid of embracing his age in his music but doesn’t feel the necessity to act accordingly to it either. This allows Hurley to be himself -- evocative, playful, melancholy, genuine -- without ever alienating his listeners, young or old.

The undemanding solemnity of Hurley’s quieter tracks on Ida Con Snock are paired with more spiritedly upbeat tracks such as "Hoot Owls" or the childish "Ragg Mopp". These songs are reminiscent of the more playful Pete Seeger or Jesse Fuller’s work on San Francisco Bay Blues in their sheer innocence and dedication to writing a song for folk’s sake. These moments exhibit a side of Hurley that are equally apart of whom he is as a songwriter and ultimately make the entirety of Ida Con Snock feel all that more complete.

Admittedly, Hurley has lost a bit of his voice in his old age and most of his songs are characterized by a fragility that didn’t exist on his earlier recordings. Where once Hurley sounded as if he was keeping American roots music alive with a vibrant flame on records like Armchair Boogie, now his music feels to be nothing but a small candle for the expansive array of music categorized under "folk". In a way, though, this adds an element of nostalgic preciousness to Ida Con Snock that is hard to find today amongst auto-tuners, pitch-correcting software, and the ability to access almost any type of music with the click of a button. Fortunately, thanks to a little help from some younger friends and a steady knack for writing a decent tune, Ida Con Snock is a good record on its own without placing it in any particular musical or historical context. Unlike the records of those with a greater legacy than Hurley, we can genuinely listen to this latest release not out of some obligatory necessity as dedicated music listeners to hear the sounds from a time that has almost entirely passed, but because Hurley is a damn good songwriter. Plain and simple.

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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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