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The Class Is Half-Empty When It's Full: Why 'X-Men: First Class' Gets an F

With Bryan Singer back in the creative chair as producer on X-Men: First Class, the movie should easily exceed the heights of X2, right?

Maybe we're all staring down the barrel of '3D fatigue'. Maybe after Tron: Legacy, and after Thor and after Megamind and after The Last Airbender and after Pirates 4 there's just too much 3D out there. It's not so much that 3D is the problem, it's that the 3D is an afterthought in most cases. That the 3D is non-essential to the storytelling of the movie. And surely story-integrated 3D is not too much to ask. We've all seen the transformative impact this kind of thoughtful 3D can have with Avatar. Why shouldn't other movies be held to a higher standard? Or, failing that, simply return to 2D? Maybe The Lincoln Lawyer or Source Code is a safer bet. Or maybe a 2D, non-spectacle version of X-Men: First Class would have allowed audiences to get to the heart of the matter, the core story of a brewing conflict between Professor X and Magneto.

First Class, the fifth outing of Stan Lee's X-Men onto the big screen comes with great expectations for the cinematic brand. X2: X-Men United was after all the movie that put superhero movies back on the map, after the big-screen debacle that was Daredevil. It's not that Bryan Singer's original X-Men that hit theaters all the way back in 2000 was particularly bad. It's more the case that X-Men was a warm-up act for Spider-Man and of course for X2.

And X2 had all the trappings of a died-in-the-wool summer blockbuster. It showed the absolute fear which mutants lived with. It showed the lengths hardline elements were prepared to go to, to effect ethnic cleansing on the mutant 'threat'. It showed the absolute peril Professor X faced with his dream of human-mutant cooperation. No real surprise, X2 borrowed heavily from the Chris Claremont-Brett Anderson graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills which detailed a battle of philosophies as much as a one of force when the X-Men came up against a religions zealot who saw mutants as devil-spawn.

If anything, X2 crystallized the fact that, in X-Men cosmology, the real threat wasn't rogue mutants or hardline extra-military elements, but a vision of triumph and destruction. After X2 it became clear that anything less than ensuring the survival of both humans and mutants, would mean the destruction of both species.

After X2 it became evident that real threat wasn't a Cold War-style Russia, an Evil Empire held at bay by MAD. The real threat in other words wasn't other mutants or other humans. The real threat was conceptually a Hitler, a tyrant who promised survival of one race at the genocide of another. And although X3 did significantly worse in box office takings than X2, it did manage to carry through the idea X-Men was essentially a battle about ideas. The idea of cooperation versus the idea of supremacy. In X3, perhaps for the first time in the cinematic trilogy, Magneto seemed to be genuinely a threat. There was something frightening about his personal charisma leveraged in the service of his vision of a global gulag for humans.

If for no other reason, this is why X-Men: First Class scans as such a disappointment. On the surface of it, First Class feels like a homecoming of sorts, life a setting-of-things-to-right. Produced by Bryan Singer's Bad Hat Harry (but directed by Matthew Vaughn rather than Singer himself), First Class seems to hold some promise of recapturing box office ground lost to Brett Ratner's X3 (something the Gavin Hood-directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine has already gone a small way to doing). It seems like all is right again. There's a suitable budget, the dream team of Singer and Lauren Schuler-Donner is reunited. Audiences should pile in. And audiences probably will.

But the disappointment creeps in with the themes; both the themes at play in First Class itself, and the overarching theme of X-Men as a battle of world-views. First Class was supposed to be the Journey. Capital jay. We were supposed to see a Charles Xavier teetering on the brink of becoming a Hugh Hefner-style playboy, only to pull back and become the sober, dedicated man of piece we recognize in Patrick Stewart's portrayal of the character in the original trilogy.

We were supposed to see Erik Lensher's evolution into Magneto, a fierce and powerful protector of mutant rights with an incapacity to extend humans any compassion. We were supposed to see Dr. Martin Luther King up against Malcolm X. We were supposed to see Norman Borlog versus Greenpeace. Instead our engagement with the battle of world-views is reduced to Professor X and Magneto, Charles and Erik, playing a cordial and seemingly endless game of chess in a number of ersatz lofty locations (like the steps of the Lincoln Memorial).

The problem with First Class is that we see neither the defining events that constructed Professor X and Magneto, nor the incredible price paid for their friendship; a price that saw these men ossified in their world-views to the point where the friendship no longer exists.

It felt like we were promised Yasuhiro Nightow's Gungrave or at least the first 7 seasons the WB's Smallville which saw Clark Kent facing off against Lex Luthor. But X-Men: First Class offered none of this.

Maybe there is such a thing as 3D fatigue. Maybe Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides would have benefited from just plain 2D. But without the spectacle of 3D, X-Men: First Class suffers only from seeing its critical weakness of storytelling exposed.

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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