Reviews

'Titan Maximum': Stop-Motion Giant Robots!

The latest effort from the creators of the hugely popular spoof animated series Robot Chicken, Titan Maximum is raunchy, awkward, and extraordinarily well produced.


Titan Maximum

Creator: Tom Root
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Rachael Leigh Cook, Eden Espinoza, Dan Milano,
Length: 110 minutes
Studio: Adult Swim
Distributor: Warner
Release Date: 2010-08-10
Website

The latest effort from the creators of the hugely popular spoof animated series Robot Chicken, Titan Maximum is raunchy, awkward, and extraordinarily well produced.

Drawing on influences ranging from Japanese anime to the Transformers TV show to classic stop-motion puppetry, the show features five pilots with clashing personalities. Their ships join together to form the giant robot Titan Maximum, and they typically wreak a whole lot of havoc while accidentally managing to save the day. The nine episodes in the first season follow the team as they travel around the solar system (set in the not-so-distant future when space travel is apparently the norm) trying to track down their former team member turned arch-nemesis, Gibbs (Seth Green).

The team is led by the ego-maniacal, testosterone-soaked Palmer (Breckin Meyer), who never stops with his put-down wisecracks and need to claim every plan of action as his own. The two arms of the robot are Jodi (Rachael Leigh Cook) and Sasha (Eden Espinoza), who are polar opposites of each other and constantly cat fighting. Jodi is the goody two shoes of the team and the only real voice of reason in the show, though her teammates constantly veto her ideas. Sasha is the sex bomb, using her sexuality as a weapon and vowing she can destroy any of the monsters or other robots they come across, as long as they have a crotch she can use as a target.

Since Gibbs has jumped ship and is trying to take over the universe, the team is rounded out by Palmer’s teenage brother and engineering genius, Willy (Dan Milano), as one of the legs. The other leg of Titan Maximum is Leon, a monkey previously working as a janitor in the storage facility where the ships were kept. Leon has no lines, but a presence all his own, and he’s in the show because, heck, “everyone loves monkeys”, as one of the creators puts it.

The bulk of the show is taken up with a barrage of fast and furious insults, comebacks, and fantastically rude comments about the fights the team engages in. I recommend watching with the subtitles on the first time so that you don’t miss any of the laugh-out-loud mockery. A character might save the world just to be informed that his fly has been down the whole time.

Then perhaps on the second round watch without the distracting text and take notice of the incredible attention to detail on the sets and costumes. Titan Maximum has a huge production team that does outstanding work and clearly takes an enormous amount of pride in what its created. Certain shots are computer generated, like action sequences of the ships zooming out of a space station. The show is an excellent blend of puppetry and animation.

The solar system has been well colonized, and there’s a logic to it. Mercury (closest to the sun) has become a sort of Florida, populated entirely by the elderly. Visiting permits are required, and if a grandchild hasn’t been sending mail, they’re not likely to be well received. Another planet, reeking of methane gas, is host to a colony of inbred hillbillies who shock Sasha by eschewing her womanly charms for Willy’s boyish ones.

An extended 42-minute “Design Showcase” featurette walks the viewer through set construction, lighting, character design, and the nitty-gritty of actually making the puppets. From the height of the actual sets to the how-to of the lacquered hairstyles, for anyone who is truly interested in how puppet animation works, crew members voice over the images, explaining step by step how Titan Maximum evolved and was executed.

In an extras interview, co-creator Seth Green remarks that the idea for the show developed out of a series of photographs he and his buddies were taking of their action figures. As Green sees it, the world can always use another show about a dysfunctional giant robot.

There are interview clips with loads of the production crew, and clips of the voice actors recording. The lighting was changed for every planet or setting that was shot, and details about the set production are impressive. One of the costume designers talks about the miniature stitching, how every stitch counts; being off by a millimeter could ruin an outfit. Crew mug shots show the unbelievable number of people involved to pull off the creation of a whole new universe.

A series of deleted animatics scenes show some of the difficult choices producers had to make to keep to short episode lengths. It’s great to see some of the drawings and sketches that were part of pre-production.

An episode re-dubbed on the fly and another episode with accompanying subtitled trivia round out a rather amazing set of extra features given the relatively short length of the feature material. Not to mention five or six versions of the trailer, each substantially different.

Before seeing the first season of Titan Maximum, I wasn’t convinced that we needed another series about a Transformers-style robotic fighting team. Now I can’t wait to see season two.

8

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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