Internet

Fruity Islands, Paw-Paw Bears and Gleaming the Cube: The Internet at Its Most Essential

Image (partial) from Charmin's website, front page

Every utilitarian object in my home boasts an invitation to visit its website. Are there forums where pleased consumers come together to share their contentment about lip balm and adhesive bandages?

If I told you that I stood naked in my bathroom this morning, studying an invitation that reads “Check out what all the girls are talking about at skintimatebonus.com”, I suspect you’d get the wrong idea. This potentially erotic come-on is, alas, nothing more orgy-riffic than a promotional gimmick printed on my wife’s free sample can of Raspberry Rain shaving cream.

I’ve been struck recently by the realization that practically every utilitarian object in my home boasts an invitation to visit its website. Does someone, somewhere find these invitations stirring? Are there forums where pleased consumers come together to share their contentment about lip balm and adhesive bandages?

I always maintained that the ad campaign for Venus razors and shaving gels was too lofty and ambitious when it suggested that the products in question could help “bring out the goddess in you”, but maybe there are legions of female consumers who know something I don’t? (Incidentally, for all the feminist resurrection of various goddess myths, there is clearly still a theological glass ceiling to contend with, in that patriarchal deities have yet to be reduced to feel-good advertising mascots; I do not anticipate an ad campaign suggesting that a men’s shaving gel or razor can “bring out the god” in me. Admittedly, if such an ad campaign does come to pass, I’ll definitely buy the product in question.)

Few of these invitations adhere to the less-is-more philosophy. My deodorant does not stop at asking me to visit its website. Instead, it suggests that I “experience www.speedstick.com.” I have learned, through nothing more than a hasty Google search to ensure that I was spelling “Gillette” correctly (I wasn’t; I’d only typed one L), that for some people, the official experience is not enough, and must indeed be supplemented with souvenirs in the way of additional web pages. To wit: my Google search for “gilette mach 3” turned up the company-produced page one would expect, promising “information and tips on shaving, skin care and body wash,” calling to mind Wonko the Sane from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, who gave up all hope for humanity when he noticed that his packet of toothpicks included directions. Yet in this case, the search also resulted in a Wikipedia page.

Let me say that again: there is a Wikipedia page for Gillette Mach3.

Humiliatingly, the teaser blurb’s claim of “$750 million in research and development costs” was sufficiently intriguing to convince me to click on the link, this despite the painfully glacial pace of our Internet access. Worse still, the teaser’s note that the razor was introduced in 1998 actually left me nodding appreciatively; am I impressed by Gillette’s razor? Lord help me, am I nostalgic?

Whatever the case, I read the damn page, which notes “the recent release of the Gillette Fusion with 5 blades,” proving The Onion prescient once again with its 2004 editorial (ostensibly penned by James M. Kilts, Gillette CEO and President): "Fuck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades". Here is a highlight from this article:

Would someone tell me how this happened? We were the fucking vanguard of shaving in this country. The Gillette Mach3 was the razor to own. Then the other guy came out with a three-blade razor. Were we scared? Hell, no. Because we hit back with a little thing called the Mach3Turbo. That's three blades and an aloe strip. For moisture. But you know what happened next? Shut up, I'm telling you what happened—the bastards went to four blades. Now we're standing around with our cocks in our hands, selling three blades and a strip. Moisture or no, suddenly we're the chumps. Well, fuck it. We're going to five blades.

Other websites advertised in my medicine cabinet include not only www.aquafresh.com, but also www.aquafresh.co.uk, ‘cause I’m such a sexy globetrotting bastard. Brainstorming at work this morning, I thought it’d be funny to check out the website for Axe deodorant, but alas, “To view the full Axe Effect experience you must have Flash Player version 9 or greater.” (How’s this for degrading: even the Pepperidge Farm website requires “Adobe® Flash® Player 8+ to view.” Apparently, I need to move out of Africa.) Then there’s that word again: experience. Not “visit the website to choose which deodorant suits you” or even “visit our website to order some of our product,” but rather, “view the full Axe Effect experience”.

Hell, I even found a review of Axe. Not a consumer review at Amazon, mind you, but a full-on blog entry by Nicholas Roussos dedicated to critiquing a deodorant. (Review: Axe Deodorant - Blogcritics Culture.) Much to my embarrassment, the deodorant review is not only well-written, but arguably (probably) more engaging and funny than anything I’ve written in recent weeks, including this essay. (Christ, its reply count stands at 25. I’ve only provoked 20-some replies two times in my three or four years at PopMatters, in essays dedicated to God and wrestler Bret Hart, respectively. Who is this Nicholas Roussos, and why is his deodorant review so disarmingly charming? A quick glance at his blog reveals that he recently ruined his iPod Shuffle by washing it with his laundry; is it petty for me to be pleased?)

The Internet’s staggering uselessness doesn’t stop at toiletries (though I do feel compelled to note, before we move on, that the Charmin website invites consumers to “Explore the Charmin forest to find the toilet paper products that are right for your family”). Bananas in Pajamas has enough of a web presence that you can also visit sites dedicated to its European spelling, Bananas in Pyjamas. Fruity Islands cereal, discontinued after a year or so back in the mid-'80s, has a web presence. You might reasonably expect something as popular as the Power Rangers to boast a considerable web presence, but I like nothing more than to make my readership feel old, and so it pleases me to note that a Google search for “Power Rangers nostalgia” yields 163,000 hits.

Former professional wrestler turned homophobic motivational speaker the Ultimate Warrior has a website. So does tone-deaf, famous-for-15-minutes William Hung. Surprisingly, Puck from Real World San Francisco does not seem to have his own dedicated website, though he does have quite a web presence, ranging from the obligatory Wikipedia entry to news pieces about his recent car crash.

Turbo Teen does not have an official site to its name, but its profiles at sites like Retrojunk and TV.com are plentiful, as are similar tributes to other profoundly forgettable ‘80s animated series ranging from Paw-Paw Bears and The Littles to The Wuzzles and Kissyfur. (Full disclosure: I wrote a loving essay about Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears for this very column in June of 2009 ("Footnotes in the Great Book of Gummi"). Sure, I’m part of the problem, but you can bugger off, ‘cause Gummi Bears was a kickass show.)

Rockstar Energy Drink has a website. So does the macarena dance. Young MC has a MySpace page and a profile at thecelebritycafe.com, and another at VH-1’s website. The rock group Green Jellÿ has a website, and in their concert promotions on MySpace, they occasionally revert to the original spelling of their name, Green Jell-O. Subversive!

There are webpages dedicated to Christian Slater’s seminal cinematic masterpiece, Gleaming the Cube, and I’m reasonably certain that the Suicidal Tendencies video for “Possessed to Skate” should be available on YouTube. There, I’ve exhausted my knowledge of skate culture.

Tone-Loc has a website. So do New Kids on the Block, whose music still inspires oxymoronic responses like “powerfully mediocre”. Readers, not only are there websites (plural) dedicated to Rubik’s Cube, there are also sites dedicated to the short-lived but astoundingly unlikely animated series based on Rubik’s Cube: Rubik, the Amazing Cube.

If Lowbrow Literati were a work of fiction, the highlight of my career would be coming up with the idea of an animated series featuring an anthropomorphic puzzle cube with superpowers that teams up with three Latino children to stop villainy, but alas, I am not making this up, and so I cannot take credit for Rubik, the Amazing Cube. I can, however, sing its praises… literally; the show was canceled in 1984, but dear people, I swear to you that I remember its theme song.

No wonder that I do: according to Wikipedia, Menudo recorded the theme! (Promotional aside: I have opted not to link to most of the sites I’ve mentioned in this essay, ‘cause I like to think that PopMatters is more worthy of your browsing time than Tone Loc’s self-promotion or reflective reminiscence about bygone breakfast foodstuffs. However, at the risk of editorial wrath, I urge you all to abandon this essay right now and YouTube some Rubik, the Amazing Cube. It’ll be the closest you get to the experience of dropping acid, I guarantee it.)

Wow. What a run. I think we’ve all learned a lot today. I now envision our planet reduced to post-apocalyptic rubble, then visited by aliens who manage to resurrect our feeble technology in order to explore humanity’s virtual culture, including skintimatebonus.com and What Would Tyler Durden Do and nutellausa.com and websites filled with nostalgic, wistful tributes to Domino’s Pizza’s “Avoid the Noid” ad campaign and Jump the Shark and the official website of Tampax and geek haven Topless Robot, which has offered such nonsensical and unnecessary contributions to the cultural conversation as its list of the most implausible vehicles and playsets from the '80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy series. (Oh, wait. I wrote that list.)

What a noble anthropological enterprise!

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Melkbelly splices insanely supercharged punk energy with noise-band drums and super catchy pop melodies. It's a bewildering, intoxicating sound which has caught the attention of underground Chicago audiences. We ask singer Miranda Winters how it works.

"I've always, I guess, struggled to decide what kind of music I wanted to play, something sort of abrasive and loud or something sort of pop and folky. I would bounce back and forth between the two," says Miranda Winters, the dynamic singer who careens between pretty girl pop croons and banshee wails in the course of, really, almost any song in the Melkbelly catalog. "When we first started Melkbelly, the goal was to figure out how to make them work together, but I don't know that we actually knew that it would work when we started."

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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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