Reviews

Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney, 1967-1972

This is the rare rock documentary made for real rock fans. Its in-depth look into such a specific period clearly marks the intended audience as beyond the casual fan.


Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney, 1967-1972

Artists: John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Label: Pride
Release Date: 2009-11-17

Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney 1967-1972 opens with John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s changing relationship following the 1966 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and continues through the release of their respective first few solo albums. At the starting point of the documentary, the two were drifting apart creatively as well as personally, and by the time Abbey Road was released, McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney was two weeks away from also being released.

The documentary combines a good deal of archival footage, videos, and song snippets; along with talking head interviews with Lennon and McCartney biographers, historians, critics, and former band members. The interviewers include Johnny Rogan, Chris Ingram, Anthony DeCurtis, and Robert Christgau, among others. Their contributions add a layer of real music criticism that is often sorely lacking in music documentaries.

With the glut of material released about The Beatles, it's rare to find something that isn’t a blatant attempt to cash in on such a devoted following. Composing Outside the Beatles is the rare rock documentary made for real rock fans. Its in-depth look into such a specific period clearly marks the intended audience as beyond the casual fan.

The documentary shifts between its two subjects in analyzing, and of course, comparing their respective output with ease. While Lennon released some of his most celebrated solo work in the few short years following the demise of The Beatles, McCartney did not fare as well critically. Lennon’s emphasis on releasing singles such as “Instant Karma” and “Give Peace a Chance” earned him both commercial and critical success immediately.

In addition, with the release of the Plastic One Band and Imagine, all within two short years, he was most assuredly continuing to put out very strong material, post-Beatles. Conversely, McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney was a lo-fi, seemingly less ambitious work that marked him as working below his talents. Ram, his follow-up did little to dispel those opinions, particularly when placed in direct comparison with Lennon’s Imagine.

If there is any drawback to the documentary, it is in its partiality to Lennon over McCartney. There is a sense that many of the interviewees view Lennon as the more creatively gifted and important of the two, but that may also be attributed to the amount of screen time given to certain critics. For instance, Johnny Rogan is a particularly verbose Lennon historian and his interviews tend toward negative criticism of McCartney in his analysis of Lennon’s accomplishments. While there are plenty of more even-handed assessments of their musical outputs in the documentary, there is a propensity to favor Lennon.

Much of what makes Composing Outside the Beatles as good as it is, is its use of actual music by its subjects. It's almost shocking to hear original music instead of subpar covers or incidental music and its inclusion should not be underestimated. Clocking in at over two hours, the documentary takes its time in using songs to illustrate the points made by its participants. In addition, there is some very nice footage of both Lennon and McCartney working in the studio and the commentary by Klaus Voorman (on Lennon) and Denny Seiwell (on McCartney) add a great deal of insight into their respective states of mind at the time. Voorman is especially candid in his recollections of song origins and Lennon’s writing style.

Voorman and Seiwell are especially sharp when it comes to discussing the feud that developed between Lennon and McCartney. There is a rather pointed clip of Lennon almost joyously playing “How Do You Sleep?”, his cutting song about McCartney, in the studio. Conversely, Seiwell clearly has a deep respect for McCartney and his reminiscences of the free, unstructured time in the studio offer a first-hand glimpse into McCartney’s recording process.

The documentary also makes it a point to focus on the contributions of both Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney. There's a real sense of trying to present their place in the creative process in a way that is not judgmental or angry, not the way they are usually presented. The differences between the two are striking.

Ono’s sway is acknowledged as very influential, especially as it relates to the avant garde performances of the music, but Voorman notes that her approach with the musicians in the studio could be brusque. Conversely, Seiwell recounts Linda McCartney’s reluctance to become musically involved, particularly as a performer in Wings, but because McCartney wanted her there, essentially as a support system, she became a part of the band.

Composing Outside the Beatles does a very nice job of shedding light on pivotal creative period for Lennon and McCartney. While there's a slight preference for Lennon’s work evidenced by the critics interviewed, both are given a fair treatment in analyzing their work. Not only is the music given an appropriate amount of dissection, but there is a real emphasis on context that is frequently lacking in documenting such iconic figures. The thoughtful interviews and tons of archival footage make for essential viewing for die-hard Beatles fans while still being accessible enough for a more casual viewer.
8

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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