Music

Drive-By Truckers: Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009

Despite their claim that Lynyrd Skynyrd is “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”, the Drive-By Truckers are way more Neil than Ronnie.


Drive-By Truckers

Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009

Label: New West
US Release Date: 2011-08-02
UK Release Date: 2011-08-29
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Here, let’s have some fun. Put on Southern Rock Opera, the Drive-By Truckers’ breakthrough 2001 double album, and play the first few seconds of each song, like you’re sampling it on the digital listening stations of some defunct retailer. (RIP Borders.) With a couple exceptions -- the drums and bass that open “Wallace”, Mike Cooley hollering “I think I’m gonna call the PO-lice!” -- every song starts with guitars: noodly guitars, foreboding guitars, guitars that have trouble getting started, guitars that have a loose relationship with soul or boogie or punk riffs. DBT can do different things, but their classic sound is meditative electric guitar worship that somehow congeals into song. To paraphrase minimalist composer Morton Feldman, those six strings are their Walden.

On Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicians, an overview of their career up ‘til 2009, Drive-By Truckers are a big floppy mess, a wad of hair soaked in Sterling Bigmouth and meat juice. The rhythm section bashes out backbeat after backbeat, and the guitar riffs tend to be what other bands call “chord progressions”. There’s always some stray guitar or pedal steel wheedling over the top of everything else, a little lost stream of consciousness. Singer/songwriter/guitarists Cooley, Patterson Hood, and Jason Isbell sound like they’re discovering their songs as they go, and often as not they neglect to include a chorus. Despite their claim that Lynyrd Skynyrd is “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”, the Truckers are way more Neil than Ronnie.

They’re also uncommonly great -- or they can be, when they don’t sacrifice their immense power and start imagining they’re in the short story business. Opera’s “Let There Be Rock” is one of their deepest and most uncanny songs; it’s rock as literature. Ostensibly a requiem for Skynyrd, who Hood never got to see live before their ‘77 plane crash, its bizarre second verse has Hood nearly drowning in his friend’s toilet, and its sublime third verse brags about all the dead musicians he did get to see live. But it wouldn’t be sublime without the band’s mighty crescendo up to Hood’s final “LET THERE BE ROCK!”, roared like a Convair engine.

Drive-By Truckers are less successful when they try more conventional literature. Their slow character-study crap is better than other alt-country bands’ slow character-study crap, but it still sounds like they’re getting warmed up. Hood’s first two songs on Ugly Buildings settle for “interesting”. “The Living Bubba” depicts a Southern singer-songwriter with AIDS, and “Bulldozers and Dirt” is about a redneck who may be a pedophile, but their music is so listless, it’s hard to do more than admire them. Cooley’s “Zip City” is a little better, but I would’ve taken any of his other Opera songs over this rote cad’s chronicle. People always talk about the Truckers’ “attention to detail”, as though they’re writing for National Geographic or something, but who really cares unless they pay the same attention to their music? “Zip City” closes with the couplet, “I got 350 heads on a 305 engine / I get ten miles to the gallon, I ain’t got no good intentions.” Aside from its lack of a hook, that’s hardly different than all those Beach Boys car songs I don’t understand.

Thankfully, as the Truckers’ extensive gay listenership might say, it gets better. Half of these 16 songs are mighty fine, and that number includes character studies like the evil “Sink Hole” and music history lessons like “Ronnie and Neil” and “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”. I’m still not entirely sure what “Cadillac” is about, but its melody rips off “Mr. Bojangles” with such sweet yearning I can’t help but love it. “Lookout Mountain” is massive; “Marry Me” sounds like a lost Stones classic. 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark album is absurdly overrated, but this compilation has the courtesy to cherrypick two of its four rockers. “The Righteous Path” is Hood’s meditation on singing one note over and over again, a righteous path of anti-melody. And “3 Dimes Down”! “3 Dimes Down” is a CRAZY song -- the guitar tone from the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a story about a laudromat threesome, and two verses (no chorus) of perfect rock ‘n’ roll lines. “Three dimes down and 25 cents shy of a slice of the Doublemint Twins”, indeed. Throw in “Let There Be Rock” and that makes five Hoods, three Cooleys, and no Isbells, which seems about right, though I wouldn’t skip Isbell’s “Outfit” and “Never Gonna Change” if they came on.

Like most compilations, this won’t have everything you want. Don’t ask me why they didn’t include “Self-Destructive Zones” or “That Man I Shot” or whatever your favorite Drive-By Truckers song is; that’s the nature of the comp. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke provides a lovely liner note interview, which seems to indicate that the band oversaw the song selection and approved the messiness. Ugly Buildings closes with Hood’s philosophical “A World of Hurt”, which reminds us, “To love is to feel pain, there ain’t no way around it.” This collection is proof.

7

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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