Music

We Don't Die, We Multiply: R&B Posse Tracks

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Take Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You", a steamy tale of a mistress longing for romantic bliss with a married man, and imagine how it might play out with a multi-perspective delivery.

In hip-hop, three or more rappers collaborate in songs we call "posse cuts". Rappers build these tunes with aims as lofty as expressing a common purpose (as in the anti-violence theme of "Self-Destruction") or objectives as simple as showcasing the skills of the participants (as in Marly Marl's "The Symphony", featuring Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G. Rap, and Big Daddy Kane).

Rappers in a posse cut are usually not members of the same musical group, so there's a tendency among fans to imagine the possibilities, to wonder how the contrasting styles of several rhymers might pan out over a track by a particular producer. Although posse cuts aren't as meticulously executed as they once were, and are sometimes confined now to halfhearted "remixes", their continued presence still underscores the cooperative elements of the culture so often overlooked in the general critique.

On the other hand, R&B is not known for producing posse tracks involving multiple vocalists. Duets are more the rage with the singing crowd, and these duets include songs that emphasize harmony of voice and tone as well as songs that rely on contrast. Unlike hip-hop posse tracks, R&B artists have less of a need to advertise their skills by piling singers into a single track. Where rappers are competitive by trade and seek to have their verses outshine those of their collaborators, R&B singers don't need three or four other voices getting in the way. Vocal arrangement might also become a casualty in this regard, not to mention the perils presented to the length of the song itself. It takes longer to sing a verse than to rap it.

Considering that hip-hop, even now, relies on posse cuts far more often than R&B does, there ought to be good reasons for singers to go for collaborations with multiple vocalists. Indeed.

Romance & Intimacy

No genre does the romance and intimacy dance quite like R&B. Lyrically, sexuality might be conveyed through innuendo or with a more explicit presentation. Many times, you'll find singers inviting their beloveds to "make love", and they sing about it with fervor.Indeed, "making love" is frequently cited as a cure for loneliness, separation, conflict, and long distance. They claim they can do it "all night long", that they'll "make it last forever", and they aren't always particular about who's watching or who's around. Racy stuff, at times, and not always the ideal type of song to blast on your stereo.

Equally intriguing are the posse cuts that tackle these intimate feelings. In hip-hop, these tunes leave me scratching my head because it seems awkward to listen to a line of rappers committing their love of carnal knowledge to rhyming verse. The language is coarse, leaving little room for subtlety or finesse. The R&B posse cuts that demonstrate a flair for the romantic aren't nearly as frank, but there's still the awkwardness of listening to a line of singers cooing their suggestive come-ons.

Nevertheless, the best song in this category has to be "Secret Garden", from Quincy Jones' Back on the Block LP. The album itself found Quincy Jones melding jazz, African rhythms, R&B, and hip-hop into something fresh and innovative. It certainly stands out for Jones' embracing hip-hop as an artistically robust culture, recruiting rhymes from hip-hop's top scholars Big Daddy Kane, Melle Melle, and Kool Moe Dee, among others.

For our purposes, Back on the Block stands tall for the song "Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)". Peep the lineup: Al B. Sure, James Ingram, El DeBarge, and Barry White! As much as I question how, as a practical matter, seduction takes place in group collaborations like this, this song still exudes a great deal of sultriness and appeal. Supposedly, the song is being reworked for today's audience with folks like Usher and Robin Thicke and so forth, but come on. The original's got Barry White. Why would you want to mess with that?

An inferior descendant of the "Secret Garden" legacy is R. Kelly's "Pregnant". This song, featuring Tyrese, Robin Thicke, and The Dream, opens with the declaration that love has changed the narrating singer from a seeker of one night stands to a family man. Unfortunately, I'm describing it far more delicately than the song does.In a stutter stepping cadence that recalls R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" series, you hear the crooning, "Girl you make me wanna get you pregnant." Of course the catalyst for this magnificent transformation is a "girl in the club with an unbelievable booty".

Personally, I find a number of things unbelievable about this song, aside from the aforementioned pregnancy hook and the transformative powers of the female anatomy: (1) it continually makes this appalling correlation between pregnancy and the occasion of meeting a woman at a club (who does that?!); (2) the fellas use "plant this magic seed" as a euphemism for conception (really, who does that?!); and (3) at one point there's talk of exploring the lucky lady's "secret garden" (like, why did they do that?!) ! All of this leads me to wonder about the nature of posse cuts in general.When the guys on a posse track go for romance, are all of the vocalists singing about the same woman or are they going for individual triumphs? Creepy, and not so cool.

T-Pain's "Reality Show" deserves a mention here, but not because it exemplifies romance or intimacy. Rather, it's quite un-romantic, although not in the uncomfortable way that "Pregnant" is. On "Reality Show", T-Pain gets help from Musiq Soulchild, Raheem DeVaughn, and Jay Lyriq. It's something like a musical version of The Bachelor, as they make reference to entertaining lots of women instead of the one-on-one contact we might associate with romantic relationships, and being in public comes up a lot in the lyrics. In the song's defense, however, there is a blurring between the idea of the singers making the audience swoon through music, versus the idea of male-female interaction. At the same time, there is no blurring of the fact that T-Pain's vocal modulations and effects are downright annoying.

About the intersection between group-oriented music and remakes, you might recall the remake of LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade". In the remake, singers Pink, Mya, and Christina Aguilera join Missy Elliott and Lil Kim for what was supposed to be a sexy take on the original in hopes of generating interest in the movie Moulin Rouge. No doubt, there was probably some hope for scoring a hit single too. I didn't see the movie, so I can't comment on that, but the remake? Kind of corny, kind of creepy, and maybe a little cool, if you happen to listen to it when you're in just the right mood (Translation: the original is better).

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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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