Music

Blitzen Trapper: American Goldwing

Portland alt-countryish rockers Blitzen Trapper take to the road with an accomplished sixth album steeped in a bygone America.


Blitzen Trapper

American Goldwing

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-09-13
Artist website
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Last year, some speculated that the sixth album by Portland's Blitzen Trapper might see the band enter some kind of cosmic-progressive phase. The logic, such as it was, went that their Queen-inspired miniature rock opera "Destroyer of the Void" was indicative of the group's future plans, where the last album's other songs were not. However, borrowing from a host of '70s influences is just what Blitzen Trapper does. Had they chosen another song from the last album, critics might just as well have predicted the band would become full-time Laurel Canyon folkies, don leather for hard rock, or disband altogether allowing frontman Eric Earley to transform permanently into Bob Dylan. Thankfully, none of those things happened. On American Goldwing Blitzen Trapper remains true to itself -- still inspired by its heroes, still fusing old sounds with new, and still compelling.

A fat slice of the credit for all this is due to Earley, the man Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes once memorably called "a supergenius". He had a point -- it takes real songwriting smarts to have a little magic from CSNY or Dylan rub off on a song without it becoming too reverential. With these new tunes, Earley more easily walks that line by reining in his influences to a certain extent. Having gotten an epic like "Destroyer of the Void" out of its collective system, Blitzen Trapper is able to focus more closely on American roots music this time around. Indeed, American Goldwing is framed within a warm nostalgia for a kind of imagined, bygone America.

This is a place the band has been to before, of course. They have at least edged around it in the folk narrative of a song like "The Tailor", but here they leap in completely. From its title to its instrumentation, this is an album steeped in the hazy atmosphere of the road, one littered with rusted pickup trucks, discarded Schlitz cans, and broken hearts. This is a very specific kind of Americana, explored using both lilting country balladry as well as ragged, stomping rock. While the group's experiments with different song styles don't always come off -- experimenting is like that -- the stronger songs here can stand alongside Blitzen Trapper's finest work to date.

While "Taking It Easy Too Long" is a disappointment -- a mournful country tale too arch and familiar to work -- something like "Love the Way You Walk Away" is much more representative of the quality here. Not unwisely given away as a free teaser MP3, it builds woozy guitar and harmonica around Earley's story of inattentive love and is perhaps the best achievement of this record's softer side. Elsewhere, "Street Fighting Sun" is one of the most irresistible rockers Trapper has yet recorded; as drums beat an uncommonly raucous vocal out of Earley, someone brandishes about a great dirty guitar riff and makes like he means to use it. As far as best moments go, a guitar break which briefly brings to mind Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi wrestles with Earley's squealed realisation that "the sun, it ain't so easy to kill."

If there's a point at which the record's country and rock sides merge most cleanly -- and so provides a useful litmus test for new listeners -- it has to be opener "Might Find It Cheap". While an electric guitar workout for much of its length, the track has dueling acoustics under its surface, and makes a feature of a broken-down mid-section which threatens to break out into a full-blown hoedown at any moment. At the album's other end, "Stranger in a Strange Land" strips the sound back to vocals, acoustic, piano, and occasional harmonica as Earley brings back the uniting notion of the road, here depicted as "the highway / Which runs far but never my way / Don't you know."

As full as it is with the debris of a scattered America-that-was, this record is so much more than a compendium of Old West or dustbowl clichés set to music. At its core, ultimately, is a set of accomplished and delicately crafted songs. Blitzen Trapper still have a way to travel yet, but American Goldwing is a more than a homely waypoint on the road and reason enough to wonder where the band's imagination -- and yes, its influences – will take the group next.

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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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