Music

Kele: The Boxer

On The Boxer, Kele has made a record from solid gold beats and squelching synths but it’s not clear whether it’s greater or lesser than the sum of its parts only because the math just doesn’t add up.


Kele

The Boxer

Label: Polydor
US Release Date: 2010-06-21
UK Release Date: 2010-06-21
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People used to buy physical copies of records. This process, known then as the music business, involved exchanging hard currency for acetate or vinyl. It was intimately connected to the record stores in which this took place processing and pigeonholing bands for commercial purposes. However, by the early '90s, bands were blurring the lines between music in the rock/pop sections and the dance/electronic sections of these record stores. On a mainstream level that was very commercially appealing. Bloc Party were a part of this, too, helping to demolish indie kids’ prejudices towards dance music, and perhaps even towards dancing itself. They also performed several spectacular ram-raids on the charts with killer singles like "Helicopter", "Banquet", and, more recently, "Flux".

Bloc Party broke ground by making likable, acute, music that was radio-ready and had big pop hooks. By drawing on influences like Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Wire, they opened up people's ears to the post-punk past. By allowing electronically-inclined produces to remix their songs, they made the dance floor accessible to people who formed opinions about music in the aftermath of ‘90s superclub culture. They gave everyone from music obsessives to passive consumers something to think and talk about, too.

The band’s hiatus after the release of 2008’s Intimacy gave Bloc Party’s frontman, Kele Okereke, the time to move to Berlin, and work with producers XXXChange and Hudson Mohawke in New York. In that time, Kele beefed up and made his sound more muscular, too.

On The Boxer, Kele has made a record from solid gold beats and squelching synths. It splatters, full of processed clunks and an air of intensity different to Bloc Party’s brooding anthems. This is the central point of difference between Kele’s solo output and that of Bloc Party. Where the latter were, defiantly, a rock band who dabbled with electronics, Kele’s music begins from a position of pure eclecticism and spreads outward.

The Boxer’s biggest hitters are its first three tracks, "Walk Tall", "On the Lam", and "Tenderoni". Disappointingly, they are heavy-handed where they need to be just heavy. Meanwhile, tracks like "The New Rules" and "All The Things I Could Never Say" are half-hearted when they should be full-blooded. It’s not clear whether it’s greater or lesser than the sum of its parts, because the math just doesn’t add up: it equates inner-city dubstep sounds with gentrified electro and globalized percussion, and it all sounds scrubbed up and sanitized.

If Kele’s been digging the crates, his findings sound more like he’s been tearing leaves out of textbooks than concocting theories and baffling us with a fevered imagination. It sounds like he’s been doing calculations and drawing graphs on his influences’ effectiveness rather than hammering his musical loves relentlessly.

"Tenderoni" is a buzzing club banger, sure, but its overhanging hook tries too hard to sound authentically housey. It’s not deep or resonant enough to match the dubstep it so wants to emulate, either. However, the martial opener, "Walk Tall", drills and demands attention, complete with a creeped-out anti-chorus. "On the Lam", meanwhile, sounds like a combination of uplifting '90s house, the brutal hardcore of that same period, with a contemporary sheen borrowed from Timbaland and Skream.

The Boxer is a thicker, heavier, version of the sort of music DFA were putting out almost 10 years ago. It doesn’t sound dated, but it does sound like Kele’s waited a long time to have his way and apply lessons that he learned during the early days of Bloc Party on his own terms. However, the album he’s made is much more successful when bent on making bodies jump, as his chaotic live sets have proved. As a result, the album isn’t particularly lovable, but it isn’t an artistic failure, either. Where The Boxer gobbles up contemporary music and spits it back out, hopefully, Kele will refine his palate for future offerings to turn out something more solid and consistent.

5

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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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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