Music

Images and Distorted Facts: The 35th Anniversary of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

Our look at Bob Dylan's classic Blood on the Tracks continues with how the album progresses through a Kubler-Ross model of grief and a look at Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Dylan's mid-'70s revival.

Edited by Rodger Jacobs and Anthony Lombardi and Produced by Sarah Zupko

Introduction by Rodger Jacobs

What can be said about Bob Dylan’s tangled and complex masterwork Blood on the Tracks that has not already been written, hypothesized, and rumored? Since the landmark album was released by Columbia Records in January 1975, the album has been dissected and examined with the sober seriousness usually reserved for lost scrolls of the Talmud or the prophecies of Nostradamus.

It has often been speculated – and speculation is the operative word here – that Blood on the Tracks was the artistic expression of the emotional fallout that rained down on Dylan’s anointed head following the heartbreaking dissolution of his twelve-year marriage to Sara Lowndes. Dylan’s 15th studio album has been hailed as “the ultimate divorce album” and a highly autobiographical work, a claim that session musician Kevin Odegard boldly asserts was “put forth and supported” by his 2004 book about the making of the record, A Simple Twist of Fate.

Odegard, who played back-up guitar on the fabled Minneapolis sessions, scoffs at Dylan’s insistence in the memoir Chronicles, Volume One that the lyrics for Blood on the Tracks were inspired by the short stories of Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Dylan’s favorite author. There is more truth, however, in the songwriter’s statement than Odegard and his supporters choose to believe or comprehend.

In execution and effect, Blood on the Tracks bears a direct lineage to the works of the celebrated author and playwright. In his experimental stories and theatrical dramas Chekhov explored dialogue in which the true emotional action ran beneath the surface of the text, operating on the belief that human beings rarely express what is on their minds and dance around the matter at heart in trivial conversation.

“Chekhov often expressed his thoughts not in speeches,” writes Constantin Stanislavski, famed Russian theatre director, in his autobiography My Life in Art, “but in pauses and between the lines or in replies consisting of a single word … the characters often feel and think things not expressed in the lines they speak.”

The ten songs that comprise Blood on the Tracks represent, in classic literary form, a journey taken by a shadowy protagonist who has “paid some dues gettin’ through”; by the end of the journey of self-discovery, Dylan’s protagonist observes that all of the people he “used to know” are an illusion to him now and he has been profoundly changed, for better or worse, by the experience (Tangled Up in Blue).

Compare and contrast the above with the following passage from Anton Chekov’s The Wife as Raymond Carver interpreted a verse from the story in his poem Two Carriages from the 1989 collection A New Path to the Waterfall:

I recalled all the details of that strange wild day, unique in my

life, and it seemed to me that I really had gone out of my mind

or become a different man. It was as though the man I had been

till that day were already a stranger to me …

Virginia Woolf observed in her essay The Common Reader that Chekov’s psychologically and spiritually complex stories shattered “the assumption that stories ought to conclude in a way that we recognize”; so, too, in 1975 did Chekhov devotee Bob Dylan forever alter the way we approach lyrics in popular music. As Dave Tilton writes in his original essay for this retrospective, One of Blood and Toil, Dylan’s compositions on Blood on the Tracks were “markedly different from the then-current musical diet on American Top 40 (radio) stations. Thus music did not sound like ABBA, Bad Company, or Jive Talkin’. It was the vinyl equivalent of food” for the undernourished mind and imagination.

With Blood on the Tracks, writes Gregg Lipkin in Bob Dylan: The Voice (another of six original essays in the first volume of our two volume tour through the heart of Dylan’s darkness), “(Dylan) pens the thoughts of an angry man kicking and screaming his way to the end of a relationship he can’t wait to get out of.”

Lipkin’s interpretation could be 100 percent on the money or it could be complete speculation. Who the hell knows? I don’t know and neither does Kevin Odergard or any other critic or Dylan hagiographer. Only Bob Dylan knows the truth to the lie and thus far he stands steadfastly by what he wrote in Chronicles: Blood on the Tracks was inspired by the literary works of Anton Chekhov.

“You are right in demanding that an artist should take an intelligent attitude to his work,” Chekhov wrote to Russian publishing magnate Aleksey Suvorin on 27 October 1888 (Letters of Anton Chekhov), “but you confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist.”

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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