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Film

His Dark Exotica: Ennio Morricone - "Rite of Magic"/ "Great Bird in the Sky"

Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” make for both of Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel 'Exorcist II: The Heretic'.

Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” both make for Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Guided by bells, tensely shuffling percussion, and a soft lone voice representative of Regan, the film’s possessed protagonist of sorts, “Rite of Magic” first delivers the film’s coda on the 1977 soundtrack--second in the film to “Great Bird of the Sky”, which plays only 20 minutes into the film and at its first dramatic point, a moment when Richard Burton, sweaty and orange-faced as ever, is handed a portrait of himself illustrated by a not-so-little Linda Blair as Regan.

“Flames… Flames. They’re getting bigger. We’ve got to put the fire out”, he says. Morricone’s piece begins and the weird aria starts amid buzzing strings like George Crumb’s Black Angels gone soft.

“Take it easy. It’s probably an after-effect of the hypnosis”, Louise Fletcher tells Burton.

They’ve been experimenting with a remote-viewing device, and when they do find the fire, somewhere in a basement and to the tune of silence--Morricone’s piece drops out after the soloist’s first few bars, Fletcher sees Burton standing before it, crowned with flames, and the film gets a little sillier. But the coda returns in a scene almost an hour later, emerging again with Burton in Ethiopia, praying to God in, remotely speaking to Blair who lays in bed, possessed and sweating like Burton, speaking to him: “Call me. Call me. Call me by my dream name.”

“Pazuzu, prince of the evil spirits of the air…”, Burton starts. Meanwhile the Crumb-like strings ring on, the vocal part begins again, and together, at least in an astral sense, they chant some demonic name, and Morricone’s intent for these pieces becomes quite clear. They’re not suspense-fodder, but ritual songs. They plod slowly, echoing 20th century avant-garde with some ceremonial intent, and finish with the kitschy flair and inflection of Les Baxter or Arthur Lyman. There’s even a bird-call in “Rite of Magic”. Exorcist II isn’t quite camp, but you could call it that.

This series, “His Dark Exotica”, persists because Morricone is a master of style. He imbues all of his work with the flair from what he channels. Though a composer most often for film, piggybacking the artistic intent of others, he is an artist still, and foremost an originator. His work bristles claims of derivation because Morricone composes what his contemporaries mime and interpolate. In “Great Bird of the Sky”, he doesn’t simply let “Rite of Magic” repeat with different timing, he replays the piece almost entirely, raising attention to the vocal piece, to the strings, compressing what was relaxed and changing tone by controlling volume. The tonal mention of exotica is a precursory mention; the album’s ensuing piece, nested between “Great Bird of the Sky” and “Rite of Magic” is exactly this.

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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 Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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