Music

Childish Gambino: Camp

Community's Donald Glover ups the ante, production-wise, on the debut physical release from his musical alter ego, Childish Gambino.


Childish Gambino

Camp

Label: Glass Note
US Release Date: 2011-11-15
UK Release Date: 2011-11-15
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On Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a sprawling, flawed attempt at an epic that would -- in theory -- fulfill both their desires to make stadium-filling hip-hop that spoke about the black experience in America in 2011, while still managing to get in the occasional bar about how awesome/not awesome it was to be Kanye West and Jay-Z. While Watch the Throne was fun at times, be honest -- there aren’t more than one or two tracks from that album you still listen to on even a weekly basis. It ended up ringing false with both artists, and proved largely forgettable. So how is it that a 27-year-old sitcom star possibly best known for videos about bros who rape other bros may have succeeded where Jay and ‘Ye failed?

For those of you who’ve never been on YouTube or waste their lives watching The Big Bang Theory on Thursdays at 8 (Seriously … stop that), Donald Glover started out in comedy in a very similar manner to how he began in hip-hop: slowly working his way from non-traditional formats (posting sketches with Derrick Comedy on YouTube: releasing EPs for free through his website) to now finding himself on the edge of stardom -- if not the precipice of breaking out -- and at least a solid audience and credibility with the indie crowd (Community barely hits four million viewers on NBC, but garners massive critical acclaim; Camp is being released on the more traditional, but still independent label Glassnote). With Camp, his debut physical release under rap moniker Childish Gambino, Glover makes the kind of Big Hip-Hop Statement that his sitcom made with its paintball episode (and I promise this is the last Community reference). This is a talented young man with a desire to take his music in any direction it can possibly go.

Lyrically, Gambino has always produced solid, quotable lines. After all, he was a writer before he got into acting (as many of his old songs will inform you, he won an Emmy for writing on 30 Rock) and still produces some of the best verses you’ll hear in hip-hop this year. However, whereas EPs like Culdesac and Be Alone occasionally got bogged down in hashtag rap and trying to convince people he’s actually a rapper, Camp, for the most part, abandons that format, and it’s telling. “Backpackers”, the album’s lone song that succumbs to that outdated style of rap, is the worst song on the album. This time around, Childish Gambino has truly fulfilled his desire to provide listeners with something real. Elements of actual story-telling and emotional outpouring fill Camp with a lifeblood that other mainstream rap records just haven’t had this year.

The album begins with its mission statement, “Outside”, a song both bigger in scale and somehow more intimate than most anything else hip-hop has seen this year. Gambino delivers heartbreak through couplets about his parents struggling just to move up to the projects (“that sound fancy to me”, he deadpans) before delivering a message to his cousin – and perhaps the entire black community -- to not allow society to define who they are. The genius of Glover is his ability to comment on the experience of his own personal struggle, or the struggle of young, nerdy, middle-class African American kids he seeks to entertain, while at no point feeling exclusive. For every line about growing up poor, there’s another about growing up as an outsider at “that white school.” Camp is not a record for black kids or white kids or Asian girls (though there’s a lot on this album for all of you, especially the latter) -- it is an album for the underdog.

One of the criticisms often levied against Childish Gambino are those of sexism, including a lengthy critique of Glover’s “Woman Problem” on Tumblr!!http://chocolatewastedberries.tumblr.com/post/6114155042/rape-is-hilarious-donald-glover-edition!!. While there are still some rough lines on Camp that are difficult to go to bat for (“You better shut your mouth/before I fuck it”, he responds to those who think they’re “allowed to say what all his raps are about”) he changes up his style on Camp by upping the stakes and spreading the loathing around: Throughout all of the album, we’re all kind of awful: men, women, and more than anyone, himself. A large part of the record deals with the emotion and anger that can come from young love gone bad. The fact is, people jump really easily into writing things off as misogynistic when it's actually just about intense emotion and shouldn't be applied logically. In the end, Gambino is caught up in the moment, and never turns the loathing harder on anyone other than himself.

Musically, however, is where Gambino improves tenfold. Ludwig Goransson’s production has taken Glover from largely laptop rap -- or, even worse, spitting over whatever indie buzz band has Pitchfork’s attention at the moment -- to a full band production combining sounds as diverse as '90s hip-hop and R&B, to modern techno and dubstep on the record’s best song, “Heartbeat”. The album is a juxtaposition of mostly depressing, self-loathing rap mixed with some of the most enjoyable post-Graduation music.

In the end, Childish Gambino has produced a grand statement with Camp. The question of if the masses will hear it becomes the only question. This album is undoubtedly one of the best records of any genre to come out in 2011, and finally sets Donald Glover up as a “serious” rapper. It’s an album even Abed might be able to get emotional over (Sorry, I lied).

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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