Music

My Decade in Music

They are simply the albums that shaped my musical landscape, for which I know every lyric of every song backward and forward, that I would take with me to that mythical desert island we music lovers always talk about

April might be a bit late for a list like this, but I did hear from some Expert on NPR that the decade does not technically end until December 31, 2010. So really, I'm early! And although every rock rag in the world did their lists months ago, I will submit my picks now.

Caveat: these are based purely on personal quirk. Before you call bullshit, let us remember the wise words of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, "How can it be bullshit to state an opinion?" They are simply the albums that shaped my musical landscape, for which I know every lyric of every song backward and forward, that I would take with me to that mythical desert island we music lovers always talk about. They comprise the soundtrack that was playing when I fell in love, when I got married, when I had my babies, when I went to work, when I fell out of love, when I got divorced, when I did all the good and bad and fun and serious and stupid things I did in this oddest of decades. Most people, places and things come and go, but one truth that has never left me since the day I was born is my intense and abiding love for my music. This is my music. Maybe some of it is yours, too.

10) Robbie Williams, Sing When You're Winning (2000)

In 1999, the indie-snob encasing of my heart melted and I learned to embrace pop music, I mean capital-P POP, like Britney Spears, N'Sync, and a then-little-known Brit named Robbie Williams. This album is his crowning jewel, with songs like "Supreme", "Let Love Be Your Energy", and "Kids", that could practically serve as primers on the genre for future generations. So much fun, from top to bottom, it's Robbie at the top of his game. It also represents for all the other pop gems that made my decade a hell of a lot more enjoyable than if I had clung to my steady diet of indie cred: Justin Timberlake's Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, and Britney's In the Zone.

9) Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (2000)

One of the most important artists in my life, period. I had the privilege of seeing Elliott Smith live just once, on the tour supporting this album. It was one of his infamously shambolic sets that made me cry not just for the power of his music, but the for self-destruction that was playing out in real time everywhere he went. When he died in 2004 on that day I will never forget, I cried. It was the first and only time I cried over the death of someone I did not know personally. I couldn't listen to his music for years afterward, and it's still not easy for me. But some of my favorite Elliott moments are to be found on Figure 8. From the best break-up song ever, "Somebody That I Used to Know", to the multi-layered vocals that break my heart through my headphones on "Everything Means Nothing to Me". From one of Smith's most optimistic songs, "L.A.", to his sickest self-assessment: "I'm a little like you / More like son of Sam". It's all there on Figure 8, all the different parts of Elliott Smith, and I'm grateful that he left it behind for us.

8) Grandaddy, The Sophtware Slump (2000)

I could launch into a treatise on the eerie prescience of Jason Lytle, who made this techno-dread opus way back in 2000, when he could only have imagined the dehumanized void we would live in via Facebook and Twitter at the dawn of the '10s. But basically, I just love this album because every single song is fucking great. I haven't made a mix CD in ten years without including one of these tracks ("Chartsengrafs" if it's a rocker, "Hewlett's Daughter" if it's slow jams, "The Crystal Lake" if it's in-between). The Sophtware Slump is clever and sweet and heartfelt and Lytle's voice on "So You'll Aim Toward the Sky" makes me want to marry him. And really, now more than ever, when you're cursing your GPS and wishing your boyfriend would actually talk to you face-to-face rather than just texting incessantly, don't you long for that "Broken Household Appliance National Forest"?

7) Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf (2004)

There is a 14-year-old boy deep inside of me, to whom loud guitars are the alpha and the omega. And that kid wants nothing more than to turn up "First It Giveth" to ear-bleed levels and head-bang all the livelong day. I often wonder why and how I love QOTSA so much when they make such complete and utter stoner music. I wonder each time I see them play live, whether it's at Coachella or in the concrete basement-slash-movie-theatre-warehouse known as SOMA in San Diego. It doesn't matter where I see this band, because I won't really be there anyway. The transport is absolute and I do not return until the last encore is over and Josh Homme has already lit his green room green. Every note of every song on Songs is perfection, and I knew it from the very first time I heard it in 2004. Even the little radio-static-DJ claptrap in between songs is essential, it's part of the whole beautiful tapestry that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. "I need a saga. What's the saga? Its Songs for the Deaf. You can't even HEAR IT."

6) Old 97s, Satellite Rides (2001)

Old 97's is probably the band that has had the greatest concrete, day-to-day impact on my life. One of my best friends from high school is married to their bass player and co-founder, Murry Hammond, and she introduced me to their music about 13 years ago. It was love at first listen, and since then I have traveled cross-country to see them live on more than one occasion, and have made many dear friends from a message board dedicated to the band. The people on that board know me better and more intimately than most of my own family, and all of that fellow feeling and shared fanaticism and love is tied up in every song on Satellite Rides. "King of All the World", widely derided by superfans as one of the more egregious sell-out attempts of the band's career, remains one of my favorites of the entire back catalogue, and few things make me happier than Ken Bethea's Cheap-Trick-y guitars on the chorus. "Buick City Complex" is the music I hope to take with me into my grave so I can shake my booty in heaven, and if you can find a song that better captures the heartbreak of love destroyed by your own hand than "Valentine", I'd like to hear it.

5) The Strokes, Is This It? (2001)

The backlash against the Strokes came faster and harder than a schoolboy losing his virginity to the prom queen. One minute they were touted as the greatest band in the universe, and literally the next minute Pitchfork pronounced "Are they really that good? Of fucking course not." However, we all proceeded to spend the rest of the decade calling every other band that came down the pike "the new Strokes", "wanna-be Strokes", "Strokes-lite", "Strokes with heartburn", etc. Which means that the first minute was a lot more accurate than the next. Only now that the dust has settled can we see that Is This It? was every bit the watershed moment it portended to be, and the Strokes, along with the White Stripes, were the touchstones of the decade for rock 'n' roll. For me? Is This It? is simply one of the most euphoric ways to spend a half hour, and it has been for almost ten years. Sheer, bratty, frenetic sonic perfection that makes me giddy just to be drawing breath.

4) My Chemical Romance, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

Aaaaand, here's where I lose a lot of you. I've already attempted to quantify my unabashed slavishness to this particular band here. But the fact remains that many people will dismiss this band out of hand, and that's a shame. 2004's Three Cheers spawned MCR's first two mega-hits, "Helena" and "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" -- both of which boast choruses that will stick to you like a sheet of Bounce in the dryer if you give 'em half a chance. The opening bass line on "Give 'Em Hell, Kid" raises my blood pressure in the best possible way. My nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter can sing along with me to every track on the album (omitting the cuss words, of course), and they do -- a couple of times a week, at least. The fact that My Chem provides the soundtrack for our little family, especially in the wake of us becoming a trio instead of a quartet, guarantees lifelong love that goes beyond just a handful of catchy rock tunes. Come play this for me in the old folks' home someday and watch me smile down to my Dearfoam slippers.

3) White Stripes, White Blood Cells (2001)

Jack White deserves some sort of award for working to keep rock 'n' roll alive every day of the 2000s. Think about it--between the White Stripes, Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, all the collaborations, all the producing (including a marriage and two children with Karen Elson)...his resume of the past ten years makes me tired just reading it. So it was hard to pick a favorite, being such a fan of his first and foremost musical vehicle with Meg White. While most agree that Elephant probably deserves the the top spot, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree, my heart belongs to White Blood Cells. Maybe it's because it was my first introduction to the band, shortly before I saw them play at the Casbah in '01 and Jack White made sounds come out of his guitar that I didn't know were possible. I'm no aficionado, and I can't tell a Gretsch from a Rickenbacker, but I got the distinct feeling that perhaps this young man in the plain white T and red pants might be a tiny bit more gifted than the average bear. A guy who can write a song as unabashedly sweet as "We're Going to Be Friends" then turn around and make Hamburger Helper out of Von Bondie Jason Stollsteimer's face...well, that says Renaissance Man to me. All I know was, that night in that tiny club, I couldn't pick my jaw up off the floor, and it stayed there for the remainder of the '00s.

2) Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (2003)

There are only a handful of artists for whom I mark my calendar for their new release dates and rush down to M-Theory Records on that Tuesday because I can't bear the wait time to order it it online. (I'm still not a download kinda gal--I like the tactile experience of flipping the pages of a crisp new CD booklet, hopefully with lyrics, and yes, I will admit it, a nice picture of Ted looking angstilly hot.) Ted Leo and his Pharmacists fall into this category. While I bought and loved everything before and since Hearts of Oak, it is this album that gets me right in the medulla oblongata. When I hear the first riff of "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?", it burrows under all the layers of my epidermis and little goosebumps form. "I'm a Ghost" pummels me in the cardiac muscle where I house all the pain of remembered infidelities, that Leo captures with an accuracy that borders on nausea.

It makes my neurons fire remembering all of the very fast and wordy and complex lyrics to "Ballad of the Sin Eater", which might have one of the greatest two-line choruses of all time: "You didn't think they could hate you, now did ya? / Oh but they hate you, they hate you 'cos you're guilty". What other rock song do you know that uses words like "fungible" and "pontoons"? "The Anointed One", "2nd Ave, 11 AM", "Bridges, Squares", "Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead"...I love them all like a fat kid loves cake. The title track even inspired me to start writing a book...until I remembered that I am too lazy to write an entire book. But the inspiration was there, along with a few solid months of research and planning! So thanks for that, Ted. And thanks for one of my go-to albums, that always gets me at a molecular level.

1) New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000)

The very first time I put this CD on, I listened to it from front to back, laying on the floor of my first home with the big stereo blasting at neighbor-repellent levels, and then I went back and did it all over again. I had never heard sounds brought together into a whole quite like this before, and I was mesmerized. Since it was the dawn of the new millennium, I distinctly remember thinking, "This is going to be one of my favorite CD's of the decade, hands down". But immediately I doubted myself, wondering if perhaps it was too quirky to have staying power. Maybe it was just short-term infatuation with no potential for longevity, like so many of my relationships. I'm a fickle gal, and I wondered if New Pornographers would survive my gnat-like attention span.

But all my doubts were for naught, because the NP's became one of those bands for me, the ones for whom I bought all new releases hot off the presses, went to every show, even when Neko wasn't there, and got into every offshoot of the band's family tree, like Dan Bejar's Destroyer and AC Newman solo. Hell, I didn't even like Neko Case before she was a New Po'! I discovered one of my favorite drummers in Kurt Dahle, who upstaged everyone involved, for his sheer watchability and the amount of fun he seems to have behind the kit. I harbored a fruitless crush on Blaine Thurier, for his cold remoteness as a keyboardist, like Nick Rhodes with more heft and less eyeshadow.

Every song on Mass Romantic is a little framed piece of kooky pop perfection. The title track name checks Foster Grant sunglasses and lets us know we'll be in for a special treat if we're of a generation to remember such things. "Letter From an Occupant" sounds so much like the aural equivalent of Peter Brady's wardrobe that one is shocked to realize the lyrics so aptly capture the real emotion of being jilted ("I cried five rivers on the way here / Which one will you skate away on?"). "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" is a keeper even if you are not, in fact, an alcoholic, because it's like Chutes and Ladders set to music, and makes me dance like those stringy-haired twin girls in the Peanuts gang (who the hell were they, anyway?). There were many, many more CDs released during the decade that really blew my hair back. But Mass Romantic ties the whole ten nutty years up into a peerless package with a particularly jaunty bow. And I'm sure, because I've had that much time to think about it.

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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