Music

John Gorka: So Dark You See

A solid album that is bound to appeal to Gorka's fans and to followers of well-presented, mature, reflective folk.


John Gorka

So Dark You See

Label: Red House
US Release Date: 2009-10-13
UK Release Date: 2009-11-30
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It's business pretty much as usual on this, John Gorka's eleventh studio album. So Dark You See may be a bit more folky and a bit less slick than 2006's Writing in the Margins, but the overall aesthetic remains unchanged: sincere, serious, gentle-but-firm singer-songwriter fare delivered in a professional, if occasionally unexciting, manner. Gorka is an accomplished musician (guitar, banjo, harmonium, occasional percussion), has a fine baritone voice, and displays a finely-honed knack for crafting a telling lyric. These ingredients have seen him through nearly three decades of the folk business and will no doubt continue to do so.

So Dark You See begins not with one of Gorka's lyrics, but with a setting of Robert Burns's "A Fond Kiss". It's a strange choice for an opener, being a song of departure and severed relationships. Gorka accompanies the lyric with a delicately picked guitar and provides a meditative take on the song that is instantly calming and quite beautiful. "Whole Wide World", a Gorka original, is an uptempo number that sounds more like the kind of thing one would expect at the outset of an album. It's a little bland, the verses not quite providing enough narrative or melodic pull, each one ending with a refrain that is somewhat catchier but doesn't quite turn the song the way it needs to go.

We're back to melancholic pace with "Can't Get over It", a song of mourning for a lost friend. Accordion and subtle synthesizer add the requisite shadings to Gorka's lovely melody, a fine example of words which look rather awkward on paper but come alive when sung. "Fret One" is an instrumental that could easily have been left out of the proceedings but does at least serve as bridge to "Ignorance and Privilege", destined to be the Gorka song that fans will remember most from this album.

"Destined" is an appropriate word given the song's subject matter of fate. Gorka delivers the lyric from the point of view of a privileged middle class white man whose "way was paved" due to his comfortable background. Like Loudon Wainwright's "Westchester County", the song resists smugness by offering an honesty that is all too often lacking in contemporary folk singers. The first-person story of origins that grounds so many singer-songwriter texts and sets the grounds on which authenticity is projected prefers to speak of poverty and hardship, or, if it can't summon these key indexes, the lessons learned on the hard road of experience. Wainwright mocks this by setting his confessional in the comfort of the suburbs: "I was raised here in Westchester County / Tennis courts, golf courses galore". Gorka plays it more seriously, finding intellectual poverty amidst material wealth: "I was born to ignorance and privilege". The music, meanwhile builds up with the narrative, only to be resolved in a suitably inevitable fashion.

"I Think of You" is a Utah Phillips song given a decent reading and featuring Lucy Kaplansky (a longtime collaborator of Gorka's) on harmony vocals. "Where No Monument Stands" is a musical adaptation of William Stafford's poem "At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border". Here, Gorka sounds remarkably like Richard Shindell, a singer-songwriter with whom he shares a lot in common. As well as having a similarly understated delivery of their material, both artists produce songs that show a high level of thought and craftsmanship. They also move in related musical circles: Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson, both of whom turn up on Gorka's album, have also recorded with Shindell.

Other covers on the album include a creditable take on the blues number "Trouble in Mind" and a welcome outing for Michael Smith's "The Dutchman", originally made famous by Steve Goodman in the 1970s and covered since by Suzy Boggus and Tom Russell among others. Gorka is faithful to the spirit of the 1970s singer-songwriter tradition, offering a straightforward vocal and guitar reading that does full justice to the intricate rhyme and meter of Smith's lengthy stanzas.

So Dark You See closes with three Gorka originals. Whether deliberately or not, "Mr. Chambers" brings to mind the opening Burns piece, offering the same heptasyllabic, four-line verses and a similar yearning melody. "That Was the Year" is a lyrically entertaining, if musically underwhelming, tall tale flavored with accordion. "Diminishing Winds" is Gorka songcraft at its best, a stately constructed song of loss and acceptance. After Joana Newsom and Bruce Springsteen both managed to get Cassiopeia into their lyrics in recent years, it's nice to hear a song that finds room for the Pleiades. But having a song that emphasizes the wind and also contains the line "the answer my friend" may be inviting the kind of folk music comparison that could never stand.

Gorka is not Dylan, nor has he yet made an album as magically suggestive as the best of Shindell's work. Those who like their folk with a bit more bite or quirkiness will probably find So Dark You See rather lacking. But it's a solid album that is bound to appeal to his fans and to followers of well-presented, mature, reflective folk.

6

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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