Reviews

'Bob Dylan Revealed' & 'Bob Dylan 1990-2006 The Never Ending Narrative'

What's fun about Dylan is the contradictory responses he generates; one person hates what another loves and each can give good reasons for feeling the way they do.

DVD: Bob Dylan Revealed
Distributor: Highway 61
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: 2011-05-01
DVD: Bob Dylan 1990-2006 The Never Ending Narrative
Distributor: Chrome Dreams
Release date: 2011-04-19

I feel like Michael Corleone in The Godfather 3: Just when I think I’m out of Bob Dylan, he draws me right back in! And apparently I’m not the only one, as a slew of new Dylan product -- critical, popular, musical or devotional -- gets released at an overwhelmingly steady pace. Some releases are made to cash in, some to catch hold, but everyone wants a piece of the Dylan action.

In many ways this deluge of material is a monumental attempt to piece Dylan together, to document, grasp, deal or contend with such a monumental artist. Because, let’s face it, Dylan is the monumental artist of the late 20th century, onward. The trajectory of his career is so sophisticatedly varied that he’s become an artist of eras: the Foundational Folk Era, the Motorcycle Accident Era, the Rolling Thunder Era, etc. Part of this is simply historical expediency, a manner of critical shorthand that makes assessment easier. But such categorization attests also to the vast scope of Dylan’s career.

Like Picasso’s periods (Blue, Rose, Cubist, Neo-classical, etc.), Dylan’s eras cover a lot of ground and are never dull; whether one likes them or not is beside the point, there's always something there to chew on, mine over, or attend to. Think of the inscrutability of a song like “Changing of the Guards” from 1978’s mostly neglected Street-Legal, or further back to the in-your-face curveball of Self Portrait, or forward to the “mainstream” MTV Unplugged record with its unrecognizable and largely plugged-in takes on bedrock songs, the singing never wavering from, at the most, two notes.

Personally, my favorite Dylan era is his Born Again phase, mainly because in a career full of Fuck You’s, this has to be the greatest of them all. The cover of Saved alone, like the work of some over-earnest Christian college art student, coming from Bob Dylan at that point in his career, was ten times more hardcore than any of the punk rock that was going on at the same time. Plus, his voice was strong and his phrasing risky.

But really, though everyone has a favorite Dylan, it is the Man as a whole that is so captivating. Despite the EKG-pattern career, there is an undeniable through-line of wiliness and wisdom that never fails to hook in some way. Hence, the Dyluge.

These are just two of the latest DVD releases about Bob Dylan, the first anecdotal, the second critical:

Bob Dylan Revealed is, alas, an unrevealing or at the most mildly revealing mishmash of interviews, stills, snippets of live and backstage footage and some really low-tech effects. The product of director Joel Gilbert, who plays Dylan in the tribute band Highway 61, this is a kind of companion to his earlier film Bob Dylan Never Ending Tour Diairies: Drummer Winston Watson’s Incredible Journey, which focused, obviously, on Dylan’s 1992-era drummer.

Watson, I believe, also plays in Highway 61, and some of the footage from the earlier film shows up here; and there are other decent interviews as well, but it’s all strung together in a slightly goofy, amateur way as a loose overview of a few Dylan landmarks: the 1966 “Dylan Goes Electric” tour, the Motorcycle Accident/Drug Rehab stint, the 1974 comeback, and on like that into the '70s and '80s. Much of the material is familiar to Dylan fans and, in the way presented here, not much good for anyone else.

Drummer Mickey Jones, who played with Dylan on the blistering 1966 tour, is the most entertaining. Lest anyone think Dylan was too bothered by the notoriously contentious audience responses at the time, Jones says, “The more they booed, the heavier my right foot got, the more Bob Dylan laughed.” Jones also has a unique take on the “Play fucking loud” remark from the Manchester Free Trade Hall show, immortalized on the Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966: “The Royal Albert Hall Concert”. It’s not who you think it is.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, violinist Scarlet Rivera and bassist/musical director Rob Stoner, all members of the Rolling Thunder Revue, give personal takes on that tour: Rivera dosed with hallucinogens before one show, Joni Mitchell getting booed at a prison gig, Stoner trying to keep all the loose-limbed elements of this raggedy-ass circus together. At the same time there is a pretty grueling episode with Rubin “Hurricane” Carter pleading his case again.

Pastor Bill Dwyer attempts to explicate Dylan’s Christian experience, and provides a nice glimpse of Dylan the Bible Student, diligently learning his lessons. Conversely representing the vitriol this period engendered is critic Joel Selvin who, having written a sale-damaging review of one of Dylan’s gospel shows, subsequently had his critical license to review Dylan revoked -- by Dylan himself, which even Selvin concedes is pretty goddamn cool.

Yet despite these sometime enjoyable reminiscences, this release is strictly peripheral -- for Dylan freaks that already know and have everything by and about Bob Dylan, but still must have anything that comes out by or about Bob Dylan. No extras.

Where Bob Dylan Revealed ends, the far more revealing Bob Dylan 1990-2006 The Never Ending Narrative begins. Another in a series (others include Bob Dylan After The Crash 1966-1978 and Bob Dylan Both Ends Of The Rainbow 1978-1989), this documentary focuses less on insider’s anecdotes than on in-depth critical assessment of Dylan’s so-called comeback years, from the critically-acclaimed and at least relatively popular Oh Mercy, to the third of his resurgent “trilogy” Modern Times.

Besides two studio engineers -- Malcolm Burns and Mark Howard -- the interviewees are all noted writers and Dylanologists: Johnny Rogan, Nigel Williamson, Andrew Mueller, Clinton Heylin, Patrick Humphries, Derek Barker, Anthony DeCurtis and Robert Christgau (The extras include full contributor’s bios). This critical heft is bolstered and balanced out by live footage, still images and other clips, so the film moves at a good, clean pace between keen criticism and solid example.

Part of what’s fun about Bob Dylan is the contradictory responses he generates: one person hates what another loves, and each can give good reasons for feeling the way they do.

Thus, author Patrick Humphries finds the follow-up to Oh Mercy, the superstar-studded under the red sky (with appearances by George Harrison, Elton John and, yes, Slash) a “flimsy valley” compared to the “mountain” of the previous release, while Robert Christgau hears a “delightful” record with nary a bad song -- though admits he doesn’t know anyone else who likes it. Immediately, we get Johnny Rogan exclaiming his appreciation. Rogan, who I found the most incisive of those interviewed, illuminates the album’s edgy nursery rhyme aspect, and links it to Dylan’s “Shake Rattle & Roll” roots. Who would think that a song called “Wiggle Wiggle” could engender such learned discussion?

Yet critical giving tree or not, in the early '90s Dylan played some notoriously “diabolical” shows, as Clinton Heylin notes, perhaps none perceived more so than his performance of “Masters of War” at the 1991 Grammy Awards. While Heylin and DeCurtis see this as the “nadir” of Dylan’s career, I tend to side with Andrew Mueller, who recognizes the sort of sly backhand to the music business the performance might have been; though he admits it was “self-indulgent, contemptuous of his audience and his band”, it was also, in the context of such “corporate mediocrity”, pretty radical to come out there and “dump five minutes of atonal excruciating din” on such a fashionably clueless audience. So, a musical mess or just one more Fuck You from Bob Dylan?

Whichever, Dylan decided, wisely, to woodshed. In short breaks from the now in-full-swing Never Ending Tour, he recorded the two acoustic cover albums, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong -- spare, loose works, permeated with an aura of historical immersion, personal rejuvenation and musical re-education -- that are commonly credited for re-starting his stalled engines. This new inspiration led to the flood of original material that is sometimes referred to as Dylan’s late trilogy, Time Out Of Mind, “Love And Theft” and Modern Times, a designation pretty much all the critics here dismiss, insisting on each album’s autonomy.

For Johnny Rogan, Dylan’s Oscar-winning song “Things Have Changed”, rather than the gloomily meditative Time Out Of Mind, was segue to the more humorous subject matter on “Love And Theft”, an album he views as a “musical concordance of the 20th century” or the 19th or even earlier. Derek Barker thinks Time Out Of Mind suffers from the slick-murk production of Daniel Lanois, preferring both “Love And Theft” and Modern Times, while DeCurtis finds the latter “flawed” and “phlegmy”. Every masterpiece has its detractors.

By far, and by consensus, Dylan’s greatest, or at least newest, masterpiece is Chronicles: Volume One, the first in a contracted series of extra-autobiographical works. I say “extra” because the book is so uncanny a presentation of a life, with oddball recollections and philosophical ruminations coming side-by-side from many temporal directions at once. Nigel Williamson calls it “the best written book about music…ever”, and I’d have to agree. Here’s Dylan describing a reawakening of musical inspiration:

“Prior to this, things had changed, and not in an abstract way. A few months earlier something out of the ordinary had occurred and I became aware of a certain set of dynamic principles by which my performances could be transformed. By combining certain elements of technique which ignite each other I could shift the levels of perception, time-frame structures and systems of rhythm which would give my songs a brighter countenance, call them up from the grave—stretch out the stiffness in their bodies and straighten them out. It was like parts of my psyche were being communicated to by angels.”

And that’s just one paragraph. All throughout the book, Dylan moves with this kind of fluid motility from the exoteric to the esoteric. Even Christgau concedes the book’s genius, though he’s not quite ready to admit Dylan planned its relaxed form.

For me that paragraph encapsulates the whole so-called Comeback Era covered very well by this documentary. As the narrator here puts it, Dylan has finally “freed himself from the pressures of keeping pace with prevailing musical trends.” The wise old man’s got nothing to prove. Or, better, as Nigel Williamson says, quoting King Lear: “Ripeness is all.”

Besides the contributor’s bios, extras include an extensive audio clip from Dylan’s 2001 “Love & Theft” press conference in Rome. Some samples:

On hardcore fans: “I don’t feel I have any hardcore fans.”

On agrarianism: “I’m partial to the land.”

On the Internet: “I’m afraid some pervert’s gonna lure me somewhere.”

On whether or not he reads the Bible: “Of course, who doesn’t?”

On his own work as Bible: “That goes without saying.”

3

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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