Music

Snoop Dogg: Malice n Wonderland

A year after delivering a bloated, scattershot collection of experiments and tired gangsta-pop tropes, Snoop is back with his shortest set yet, one in which he appears comfortable spending much of the time on the sidelines.


Snoop Dogg

Malice n Wonderland

Label: Doggystyle
US Release Date: 2009-12-08
UK Release Date: 2009-12-07
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Snoop Dogg's past couple of albums, 2006's Tha Blue Carpet Treatment and last year's Ego Trippin', were nothing if not endurance tests. The former contained 21 tracks of gangsta recidivism on top of forward-looking production, while Ego Trippin' found Snoop in a schizophrenic state of mind; one minute hosting a West coast party or poking fun at himself, the next playing country rap alongside Everclear. So to call Malice 'n' Wonderland's runtime a surprise is being conservative. Malice 'n' Wonderland is more cohesive than Ego Trippin', thanks to some subtle sequencing and the precise tracklist. The interlude at the end of "Secrets" is an accordion-inspired remix of "I Wanna Rock", while "Pronto" and "1800" feature transitions that help introduce the following track. "1800" and "Different Languages" couldn't be further apart in style, but they sound as close to happy bedfellows as possible here. Unfortunately, despite a more cohesive production aesthetic overall, this album still falls prey to many of the same faults as Ego Trippin'.

Here Snoop is pretty lazy on the mic compared to Blue Carpet Treatment, No Limit Top Dogg or Doggystyle, and that's saying something. Soulja Boy does his best (worst?) impression of Gucci Mane sidekick Waka Flocka Flame on "Pronto". He redeems himself with the autotune chorus, though. Its nods to West coast flavor and seductively catchy melody grew on me over the past weeks while most of this album has felt more and more shallow over time. In fact, Soulja Boy could reasonably make a claim that he outrapped Snoop on his own track. After hearing the verses one might not be sure it counts as a victory, but it is something that stands out to these ears. The-Dream also steals the show both times he appears on the disc, once with the single "Gangsta Luv" and later with the similarly titled "Luv Drunk", a track that might as well say featuring Snoop Dogg instead and doesn't reach the candy-coated heights of the earlier track or other recent Dream collaborations. In fact, your enjoyment of Malice 'n' Wonderland may come down to whether or not you appreciate the choruses and production, because most of this album feels more like a collection of collaborations than a true album, more of a diversionary mixtape than a contribution to the Snoop Dogg canon.

What ends up being hardest to reconcile here is the album's strict lean towards pop music. "1800" has hints of dubstep and "That's tha Homie" is shockingly dull, but most of this stuff is pretty light, accessible and fun. "Special" isn't too far removed from the Neptunes' collaborations with stars like Mariah Carey in the early half of the decade, other than carrying the burden of Pharrell's newfound easy listening bent. One other notable diversion is the album's lead single, "I Wanna Rock". Produced by longtime collaborator Scoop DeVille with assistance from the legendary good Dr. Andre Young, the track features a tilt towards electro and dubstep culture similar to "1800", with a chant of "Snoop Dogg" hearkening back to early '90s hip-hop. But even more enjoyable is the sample of Rob Base upon which the song is based. His repetition of "I wanna rock right now" sounds perfectly at home in the mix.

While the lyrics, like much of the album, seem to aspire towards nothing loftier than Atlanta strip club soundtracks and comfort food for car rides, "I Wanna Rock" stands out for its unique vision. Unfortunately, Snoop's backsliding into gangster rap on "2 Minute Warning" doesn't work like it did on Blue Carpet Treatment. Because he doesn't sound in control of most of these songs, a lot of fans and curious passersby are going to be disappointed with this release. Not only is there less Snoop Dogg on a disc than ever before (the runtime itself is shorter than any previous Snoop album), but the Snoop we get is arguably one of his least inspired performances in years, perhaps period. It's clear he still knows how to make good songs, because this is an enjoyable album at face value. But Snoop comes from an era when mainstream hip-hop was at least slightly more than skin deep, and it's a bit of a shame to see him reaching for the pop charts and crossover material more aggressively than ever before.

Perhaps if his content had matured along with his sound, Snoop Dogg would be acceptable as an adult contemporary-type figure in hip-hop (I imagine "Different Languages" going much differently in the hands of a Jay-Z, Big Boi or Nas), but he is famously stubborn in his approach to MCing, so it's no surprise to find him coasting through much of this album. He attempts to nod towards new movements like jerking, but it's ultimately awkward for a guy his age (not to mention as relaxed as he is) attempting to fit into that scene. In the days of hip-hop as popular commercial product I'm increasingly unsure what its audience is looking for, but being that this album seems to rely so heavily on great hooks and attractive beats to sell Snoop's tired, been-there-done-that raps, I can't imagine this being a truly satisfying release for most listeners.

4

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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