Music

Moonface: Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped

Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) records an album composed on an organ, and it's Krug through-and-through, for better or worse.


Moonface

Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped

Label: Jagjaguwar
US Release Date: 2011-08-02
UK Release Date: 2011-08-02
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This guy Spencer Krug loves making records. (I will take my Pulitzer now, journalists.) Reviewers are, in fact, contractually obligated to mention Krug’s prolific output when discussing his oeuvre—and, in keeping with the man’s increasingly fanciful lyrical work and sky-high earnestness, we’re also required to say oeuvre in our most nasal, wilting, sweater-tied-around-our-shoulders accent. Krug begs this attention to detail and to history because he’s a rare breed, a songwriter interested in creating his own lexicon—or, if we can also be earnest for a moment, his own world. For example, when Krug references lyrics from his own older songs in newer compositions, he’s doing it less out of egocentrism and more out of a desire for continuity, for the added depth and nuanced portraiture that comes when a piece of artwork taps into a greater history. So, when Krug, on the opening track from an album by yet another new project, sings about a flame that gives a “terrible glimpse of a shark / within your idiot heart", longtime fans will smile at the name-drop in those last two words. In other words, knowing “Idiot Heart” by Krug’s Sunset Rubdown makes listening to Krug’s Moonface—this new project—more gratifying, as a fan can feel part of the in-crowd in catching the references while also basking in the distinct thrills of exploring a new neighborhood in Krugdom.

Moonface, Krug’s first solo moniker since the early days of Sunset Rubdown, made its official debut with 2010’s Dreamland EP: marimba and shit-drums. That record hued close to its title, consisting of a single twenty-minute long song played on the marimba, Krug’s passion of the moment, with a backing drum track. (The drums really weren’t so terrible, if we’re setting things straight.) While Dreamland presumably sold far fewer copies than, say, a Wolf Parade record, it marked one of the highpoints of Krug’s career, a chance for him to show his compositional chops, his eagerness to take risks and push himself forward, his uncanny ability to create and maintain a particular mood (on Dreamland, a sense of ambiguous dread) through his vivid, surrealistic, idiosyncratic lyrics. Though attentive Krugians will note that the name “Moonface” first appeared on a limited run Sunset Rubdown 7” called Introducing Moonface, Krug’s decision to record under the moniker itself seemed like a one-off move.

And then, all of a sudden, we have Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, all 40 minutes of it. The continuity here is simple enough, as this new Moonface album also marks Krug’s experimentation with a new instrument and was written and recorded by Krug alone. In a broader sense, it continues the pattern of Krug being Krug: layered, dense compositions; lyrics that dip their toes into the surreal; that croaking, wonderfully evocative voice. It also marks Krug’s first real misstep in—well, his first real misstep.

Some critics contend that Wolf Parade, Krug’s most famous band, works so well because Krug has a proper foil in co-leader Dan Boeckner. Boeckner—anthemic, fist-pumping, Springsteen-respecting—keeps Krug in check, they say. That could be true; it’s impossible to know what Wolf Parade’s songwriting process really involved, but it’s fair to say that Krug saw diminishing returns with the band while Boeckner saw a rise in his stock (compare Boeckner’s face-melting “Pobody’s Nerfect” with Krug’s lurching “Two Men in New Tuxedos"; Dan’s “Agents of Love” versus Krug’s “Semi-Precious Stone"; “Language City” with anything else on At Mount Zoomer). Now that Wolf Parade has supposedly called it quits, perhaps Krug is celebrating his liberation with Organ Music.

Or maybe he, like most musicians, just benefits from having someone else in the room. I’ll let you make your own organ/masturbatory puns, and then I’ll stop you, because it’s not that bad (and shame on you). There are real highs, here. “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” swells and bounces with the best of Krug, sounding something like a demo for the next Sunset Rubdown record, with its swirling keys and lyrical fixation on music-making itself. Its refrain, “You should have been a writer / You should have played guitar", sounds the opposite chord as Sunset Rubdown’s “Trumpet, Trumpet” suites, where Krug—or his narrator—expresses his distrust of musicians and their nomadic habits. “Fast Peter” surprises with a straight-forward (!) narrative about a friend who decides to chase love to a new town: “They only talk on their computers / And Peter said he wants to stay a good guy in the world / So, Peter’s leaving town / Who even does that anymore!" In fact, reading the lyrics for the song—and most of the words here—on Organ Music’s liner notes feels less like reading lyrics and more like reading flash fiction, a blend of micro-narratives and lyrical, imagistic passages. Krug knows how to turn a phrase. Check “Loose Heart=Loose Plan” and its tongue-twisting chorus, “You said, ‘Come on / Let’s kill / Individual will!’ / I said, ‘I will, / I will / Oh, I really, really will.’”

But for all the feats of the pen shown here, the music doesn’t stack up. Left to his own devices—or, possibly, to the devices of his chosen instrument here—Krug’s ambitious compositions often feel merely over-inflated. They get all puffed up in their king-sized running times, but then they have nowhere to go. Krug can layer melody upon melody with the organ, but once he’s filled “Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)” to the brim with drama and tension, he’s left with no pushpin to make it all explode in the end. It’s worth noting that when Krug performs these songs live, they sound much bigger, full of bass and life, hulking and swaying in a manner not remotely captured by the mix here. Without that sense of dynamism, Organ Music feels too much like a mere exercise by the end of its thirty-seven minutes—a melancholic, dark, interesting experiment, but one without conclusive results. Fortunately, he likely has plenty else cooking up in the lab already.

6

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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