Film

A Twi-Haters Guide to Twilight: Part 2 - Rifftrax: A Twi-Haters Sanctuary

Rifftrax turns the entire Twilight experience into a mixed meta media exploration, commenting both on the films themselves and the obvious outside reaction to same.

Their narrative ineptness is matched only by their performance inertness. Reality is routinely avoided for more manipulative teen angst and lover's triangle trepidation. If it wasn't for the fact that thousands of unhappy women and a some complicit males have turned Stephenie Meyer's strangled stabs at writing into a full blown cultural phenomenon, we wouldn't have to suffer through several cinematic interpretations of her junk genre interpretation of the romance novel. But this is Hollywood after all, a place where franchises are uncovered, established, fostered and then mercilessly squeezed for every last ounce of commercial potential. Not only will Meyer's four excuses for novels be turned into five, count them five films, but we will have at least one more tome to worry about (the events as seen specifically from Edward's point of view).

So how does a Twi-hater survive such celluloid swill? How do they find a happy medium between utter boredom and contempt for leisure time wasted and the need to... say... experience these excuses for entertainment with a potential paramour. The answer comes in the form of Rifftrax, the audio only offshoot of the Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. Featuring the talents of cast members Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett and designed as a comic complement to the many bloated, big budget helpings of tripe Tinseltown delivers annually, this trio of snark specialists can find wit in even the most worn out and worthless motion picture product. Talking over the dialogue and delivering scathing satiric quips, they take the art of in-theater (or in this case, personal sonic supplement) interruption to genius levels.

The Twilight films definitely need it. At nearly four and a half hours, the first two entries in the series are like Young Adult Fiction on muscle relaxers. For example, the character of Jacob, a studly Native American and childhood friend of heroine Bella, is introduced at the beginning of the original Twilight. He shows up a couple of more times, his long black hair making him look like a reject from a parody of a J-Horror film. Ancillary to almost everything that's going on during Part 1, he steps up in Part 2 to become Bella's new beau, a member of an elite shirtless werewolf gang (?), and via insinuation and conjected cliché, a thorn in the side of his gal pal's plans with vampire lover Edward. If this were a Lifetime TV movie, we'd get this plus about 37 other subplots before the inevitable ads for feminine hygiene products and infomercial kitchen gadgets.

But not Twilight and the more awkwardly labeled sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The plot for each can be summed up in a single sentence: lonely teen babe Bella falls for the ethereal charms of "vegetarian" vampire Edward Cullen, much to the chagrin of shapeshifting childhood pal Jacob and a competing band of bad neckbiters who look like Eurotrash. The End. That's right -- add in a Anne Rice rip-off called The Volturi (undead royalty who rule the subspecies, apparently) and a moustached dad who has a hard time understanding his ghoul-craving daughter and you've got everything you need for nearly 270 minutes of meandering emo nonsense. Morrissey was never as mopey as this somnambulist stupidity -- and he had a girlfriend in a coma.

It wouldn't be so bad if the acting amplified the feeling of force storyline contrivance, but in the persona of Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, Bella, Edward, and Jacob become escaped wax museum figurines. She can't speak a single line without fluttering her eyelids like a silent movie star and adding huge trailer truck sized dramatic pauses. Blood-drinking he could teach the members of the mumblecore generation a thing or two about whispered indignation while our reluctant lycanthrope let's his eyebrows and electric white teeth do most of the heavy lifting. Conversations between these three are like watching Alzheimers victims remember their past -- painful, with significantly more lapses in logic than lucid moments. And when you stick them inside a story which is nothing more than masturbation fodder for the hard-up, homely, and horny, you're bound to be disappointed -- perhaps, suicidally so.

So how, exactly, does Rifftrax make this tolerable? How does it take the sloppy direction of the original, the dragged out nothingness of the sequel, the bland, faceless sense of worthless wish fulfillment and the feeling of having lost a significant slice of your life listening to losers whine about their interminable, endless love and turn it into something engaging and fun? Easy, call it "taking the piss out of the pathetic", or "mocking the readily apparent". Rifftrax can often degenerate into juvenilia, making jokes that should be left to the 14-year-olds and pandering right back to said demo, but for the most part, their extensive skill at slice and dice criticism highlights what many may overlook -- or simply ignore. They will point out Lautner's six-pack limitations, Pattinson's pug-faced feyness, and Stewart's incapacity to say a single sentence without breaking several times for multi-second thespian lapses.

They will pick apart Meyer's Church of the Latter Day Saints sense of celibacy, balk at all the hushed asexual tension. When the Cullen clan invites Bella to their pre-thunderstorm baseball game (that's right, the new world Dracula and his brood love them some national past time), the resulting confrontation with the creature feature version of Kajagoogoo is perfect farce fodder. Even better, Rifftrax turns the entire experience into a mixed meta media exploration, commenting both on the film itself and the obvious outside reaction to same. In both instances, the narrative track begins with baffling questions about the omnipresent impact of the franchise, the questionable attractiveness of the leads, and the general lack of intelligence, quality, talent, and overall value in the books and/or films.

Of course, trying to pawn these versions of the movies off on your Team Edward/Jacob significant other may be difficult. Luckily, you can transport these sound files to your favorite music machine. Just hook up the iPod, insert ear buds, sync up the spoofing, and enjoy an evening with veiled vampyrotechnics without any significant loss of brain cells -- or scoring potential. Sure, your mate may wonder why you need a separate soundtrack in order to spend time with then (and you should really question any relationship that would expect Twilight to be a sensible shared experience), but at least you will survive... somewhat. While it's clear that Rifftrax can be a hit or miss investment -- their work on good films like The Matrix and JJ Abrams Star Trek are rather uninspired reaches -- in the case of The Twilight Saga, it's the only way for a Twi-hater to rebel against the growing cult of conformity.

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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