Music

David Bowie: Station to Station (Special Edition)

Perhaps David Bowie's greatest achievement, Station to Station gets the Special and Deluxe Editions treatment, complete with two discs of previously unreleased live recordings and an indispensable surround sound mix.


David Bowie

Station to Station (Special Edition)

Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2010-09-28
UK Release Date: 2010-09-27
Artist website
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In Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie plays a reticent, eccentric billionaire who happens to be an alien from outer space. A still from the film provides the cover art for Bowie’s 1976 Station to Station, which EMI just re-released as a 3-CD Special Edition and 5-CD/DVD plus 3-LP Deluxe Edition. The still comes from a scene where the alien leads Rip Torn into a spaceship he's developed. Torn, playing the top scientist of Bowie's World Enterprises Corporation, immediately dismisses the vessel's capacity for cosmic travel. Bowie is taken aback, but presses on. "Do you trust me?," he asks, as the two approach a glowing orb, presumably the ship's power source. Torn responds frankly, "I want to." It reads as Torn being unsettled and defensive, but onscreen, it's Bowie who's more vulnerable. Torn quips jokingly, "Per ardua ad astra," which Bowie doesn't recognize as the Royal Air Force's Latin motto -- after claiming to have been born in Britain.

It's a poignant moment, not only for Bowie's fish-out-of-water character, but also for the fish-out-of-water artist himself. His rise to prominence came only after rolling through a mini-Rolodex of alter-egos in the late sixties and early seventies, and even when he found one that suited him -- an extraterrestrial rock star, gaining a name on Ziggy Stardust then another on Aladdin Sane -- it was an identity in crisis. Besides being a prototype for the Man Who Fell to Earth character, right down to his carrot-top mop, this role embodied a sort of psychedelic unease. He filled glam rock shoes without feeling comfortable in them, lacking the cocksure virility of similar personas like Mick Jagger and Marc Bolan. Perhaps he was simply restless, but neither costume nor genre remained static very long for Bowie.

No album in his repertoire embodies this unrest more than Station to Station. Preceding the beloved pop art of his so-called Berlin Trilogy and following the spotty "plastic soul" experiment of Young Americans (which itself was an escape from a glam rock well run dry), it is Bowie’s Revolver: a show of versatility that seized his best songwriting before his style became turned from composite to cohesive. It's no mere transitional refuse, the way throwaway tracks from Space Oddity and Diamond Dogs are. After assembling an almost miraculously talented ensemble of studio rockers, the former Ziggy Stardust -- now the fascist-chic Thin White Duke -- snorted a boatload of cocaine and made a modern masterpiece.

If Station to Station boils a career down to an album, then "Station to Station" boils an album down to a song. Starting from a spare, foreboding two-note piano dirge, it builds to rapturous R&B as the Duke attempts to fill an emotional void with stimulants. The change of tempo halfway through is one of the great moments of rock history. Who didn't lose their shit when they first heard the kit kick in right before the lament, "Once there were mountains on mountains / And once there were sunbirds to soar with / And once I could never be down"? It was every bit as devastating as "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", only it chose catharsis over forlorn abandon. It also prophesied the future: By roping in the spookiness of dub and the dissonance of Krautrock, and streamlining them for maximum theater, he basically invented post-punk before punk was even over.

Then there were "Golden Years" and "Stay", Bowie's final attempts at straight-up black music. The former begs an imagined lover to join him -- on the dancefloor, or in bed, it's unclear -- for fear that if she doesn't, his transient high spirits will run out. Hi-hats tap away as the refrain of "Golden years" desperately denies that these years are anything but. "Stay", meanwhile, is more Funkadelic than outright funk, poised as it is between melodrama and space jam. "Stay / That's what I meant to say or do something," the Duke insists. "But what I never say is stay this time." His brittle croon is a battered shell of "Golden Years"' silky-smoothness, as if the charade has finally given away to despair. That Bowie could, within the mode of soul, represent two connected but distinct psychic states, reflects something too often overlooked by the cliché of Bowie-as-musical-chameleon: his formidable artistic depth.

"Golden Years" was a top ten single on both sides of the Atlantic, and continues to get radio play. Bowie's ballads, meanwhile, were and continue to be polarizing. Young Americans was nimble enough, and had enough flagrant nods to the Beatles for rockists to overlook its tawdry LA sound. "Words on a Wing" and "Wild Is the Wind", though, were irreconcilable. Their loss. While Hunky Dory, especially "Life on Mars?" and "Changes", proved Bowie could do camp, "Words on a Wing" is camp in the truest sense of the word, as defined by Susan Sontag: it’s so androgynous, so maudlin and triumphant, so passionately earnest, that it rises above fulsomeness and achieves genuine beauty. "Wild Is the Wind" does the same, silencing all doubts that this scrawny, wan Brit could really sing, by covering the Nina Simone version, not the Johnny Mathis.

But nothing tops "TVC15". Like the melodica at the start of "Golden Years", the saloon piano leading into "TVC15" promises yet another genre exercise, but it isn’t long before classification is futile. (Although I do like Robert Christgau’s noble attempt when he claimed it combined "Lou Reed, disco, and Huey Smith.") Squealing guitars pulsate behind Bowie at his most delightfully affected, as he yelps the nightmarish tale of a carnivorous television. Structurally, the track -- which, at five-and-a-half minutes, is modest for the album -- sashays from Motown to spaghetti Western gallop, ends at musical theater and starts over again without the slightest fragmentation. It all converges as a sort of post-Phil Spector Wall of Sound, prefiguring the three albums that followed: Low, "Heroes", and Lodger, otherwise known as the Berlin trilogy.

As I reviewed this record, hearing "TVC15" was revelatory. I last listened to it when I was going through my Bowie phase in high school, and I remembered liking it, but I didn’t remember how densely dream-like it was. As if anticipating that everyone else forgot, too, the Deluxe Edition includes a surround sound mix from producer Harry Maslin. Usually these Dolby/DTS remasters are tertiary box set fodder, barely distinguishable from the stereo originals. Not here: Maslin doesn't so much remaster Station to Station as reconfigure it. Guitars step out front and take on a life of their own. Cowbells and echoed vocals beam in via satellite. Bowie's voice sounds somehow fuller and more nuanced. Never before has his music sounded so polyvocal, and never again would you doubt -- if you ever did -- that Bowie was a wizard in the studio.

The only snag in Bowie's studio-centrism was translating his new material to the stage. This becomes fairly apparent on the two live discs included in the Station to Station Special Edition, recorded at Uniondale’s Nassau Coliseum in 1976. Not that this previously unreleased material is in any way inessential. On the contrary, it surpasses some of the recordings on the market for decades now, including the effete Santa Monica '72 from a few years ago. But to fit the aesthetic cornucopia of Station to Station into a live setting, the Thin White Duke cut it down to its hard rock essentials, for lack of any better ideas. It never quite worked for his cover of "Waiting for the Man", one of his live staples, the same way it doesn't quite fit other Velvet Underground classics on Lou Reed's Rock and Roll Animal. It also doesn't work for "Station to Station", which sounds rushed, or "Fame", which plods where it should strut, or "TVC15", which becomes a sleazy sing-along. "Word on a Wing" and "Stay" were born arena-ready, so they survive onstage as exact replicas of their recorded counterparts. Otherwise, it's the innovative rendering of older crowd-pleasers -- particularly the George Thorogood-like stomp of "The Jean Genie" and a high-velocity "Panic in Detroit" (which, like "TVC15", was based on a story Bowie heard from his friend Iggy Pop) -- which make the Special Edition worth seeking out.

Then again, there's no good reason anyone shouldn't consider getting their hands on either of these handsome packages. For long-time fans, it's a no-brainer. For those who never really liked Station to Station, well, you should reconsider. For those who want to get into Bowie and don't know where to start, this is your best bet. I know your friends recommended one of the Berliners, probably Low. Or maybe they gave you a burnt copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. All hard to dismiss, but consider this. Bowie is defined by two things, mainly: constant flux and the anxiety it breeds. (Look at the video below for evidence of the latter.) Station to Station, with its track-by-track stylistic changes, and pervasive mood of existential crisis, reflects this immeasurably. It's also, quite simply, a damn good record. What more convincing do you need?

9

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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