Music

One Hit Wonder: Snow Patrol

"Please don't go crazy if I tell you the truth..."

A few years ago, I made a mix CD of some of my favorite songs and gave copies to my friends. One of the songs on the CD, Arcade Fire's "Wake Up", is currently being used to advertise the Where the Wild Things Are movie, and most of the other songs I shared hold up equally well, including Bright Eyes' "First Day of My Life" (one of the best love songs I've ever heard), Doves' "Black and White Town", Jill Sobule's "Cinnamon Park", The Thrills' "Big Sur", Stereophonics' "Dakota", Keane's "This Is the Last Time", Interpol's "Evil" (which has an awesome video, btw), Deena Carter's "In a Heartbeat", and Easyworld's "How Did It Ever Come to This". Of course, I also added Daniel Powter's "Bad Day", but in my defense, this was before the song got chosen for American Idol and started getting played 14 times every hour on the radio.

I ended the CD with one of my all-time favorite songs, "How to Be Dead" by Snow Patrol.

When I first ran across the video for "Chocolate", a Snow Patrol single that spent two weeks on the Modern Rock chart, but otherwise didn't make a major impression in the United States, I was intrigued. The video portrayed hundreds of people reacting to the world ending, from people running frantically and a couple having sex for the last time to a woman holding her crying child, while the band members calmly played their song. Towards the end, the sand in the hourglass runs out, and everywhere, people fall to the ground and shield themselves from the inevitable horror. Except... nothing happens. As they're beginning to comprehend that fact, Gary Lightbody, the lead singer of Snow Patrol, walks over to the hourglass and turns it over, and the panic begins anew.

Although the song wasn't bad, I was actually more impressed by the video, so I searched for more. Fortunately, I came across "Run", a song that peaked at #15 on the Modern Rock chart in America, but was actually a Top 5 hit in the UK. The song was provocative and unforgettable. The last time I'd heard a song that instantly created a mood and a mystique like that was almost 20 years earlier, when "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" by Mike + the Mechanics played on the radio. I bought Snow Patrol's Final Straw CD the next day.

And that's when I heard "How to Be Dead". I'm not completely sure what the song is about -- it sounds like an argument between a drug addict and the woman who is tired of being hurt by him -- but when she says, "You've not heard a single word I have said. Oh my god," there's something so heartbreaking about the way Gary sings the line (even though everyone's probably heard and/or said something like that a thousand times in their lives). A clichéd complaint suddenly becomes far more serious than it should be, although it doesn't hurt that earlier, she asks him, "Why can't you shoulder the blame? / ‘Cause both my shoulders are heavy from the weight of us both".

When Snow Patrol released their second major label CD, Eyes Open, I bought it the week it went on sale, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I had enjoyed Final Straw. In fact, a couple of years later, when I was watching a season of Smallville on DVD, I heard "You Could Be Happy" played and went online to find out who sang it. To my surprise, not only was it Snow Patrol, it was on the Eyes Open CD. (Then again, the song is so fatally precious, it's not surprising I had forgotten all about it.)

With all the great songs on Final Straw, I have to admit it's almost shocking to me that Snow Patrol's only major hit in the US came from Eyes Open. One Tree Hill featured "Chasing Cars" on their May 3, 2006 episode, but it was the song's appearance in the emotional season finale of Grey's Anatomy two weeks later that propelled it into becoming a major hit. "Chasing Cars" peaked at #5 on Billboard's Hot 100 and spent more than ten months on the chart.

Snow Patrol appeared again on the Hot 100 in 2007 with "Signal Fire", a song from the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack, but the song debuted at #65, fell to #85 the next week, then disappeared from the chart.

I don't begrudge the success of "Chasing Cars" at all. But I have to admit, I wish Eyes Open had been their first major label release, with Final Straw being their next, instead of the other way around. Maybe then, great songs like "Run" and "How to Be Dead" might have gotten more attention from mainstream radio. But you know what they say. If wishes were horses, bears would shit on the Pope, or something like that...

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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