Music

Rihanna: Talk That Talk

Is Talk That Talk actually an album? It's certainly a CD with a booklet and some music.


Rihanna

Talk That Talk

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2011-11-21
UK Release Date: 2011-11-21
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Talk That Talk opens as if it had started somewhere else, "You Da One" fading into existence mid-performance and then catching us up on the particulars. Which is a bit of a clever move on the part of Rihanna's producers, considering we're seven years into her career and haven't had a moment to escape her voice since her tumultuous 2008, and even then somebody somewhere was queuing up "Umbrella" on your favorite bar's jukebox. These days Rihanna is spoon-fed into our ears as regularly as a morning cup of coffee, almost as if without her the pop culture side of our lives would be void. But that moment of coy awareness is fleeting, as Talk That Talk very quickly makes it clear this is easily the least Rihanna-reliant record yet. This is also a self-aware move, but self-defeating even more so. In its attempts to deliver us the sugar and frosting without much of the actual cake -- more on cake later -- Talk That Talk completely undermines itself as an album, sometimes even as songs.

Of the 11 songs contained in this forgivable slim 37-minute set, very few register as "songs" in the general sense of the term. These are tunes, three- and four-minute interludes designed for club DJs to dip in and out of at their convenience. Until Jay-Z appears at the beginning of the title track, you'd be forgiven for thinking you hadn't heard a single verse yet. Rihanna's long been critically derided for a sort of passionless delivery that doubles as the reason so many have fallen for her litany of hit singles, and it's always been best employed as a hook delivery device. In recent years, producers have capitalized on "Umbrella"'s ubiquity to make her voice repeat all kinds of sounds, from ellas to ays. She's become a paragon of hip-hop and dance-floor chants, and Talk That Talk can't emphasize that enough. Every time she comes to a verse, it takes a moment to register she might actually have something to say, as singles like "Cockiness" and "We Found Love" contains verses so slight they may as well be bridges.

Speaking of "Cockiness", a lot has been made about Talk That Talk's sexuality. I'm aware of why this is, even if the record doesn't sound nearly as dangerous as many of my peers would like you to believe. This is a girl who practically begged us to tie her up and spank her last year, after all, so hearing her sing-rap an ode to having her ... persuasion licked isn't exactly a surprise. Thanks to Rihanna's constant relevancy it's possibly easy to forget she's 23 years old and absolutely flush with cash, so a bit of sexual deviancy is probably the most predictable life path she could possibly follow at this moment. To me, the sex conversation going on here isn't worth much because it's delivered in a juvenile manner that's way more exciting to high school freshmen than college kids and adults. For example, "Roc Me Out" has Rihanna letting us in on a "dirty secret": "I just wanna be loved." Not exactly a dangerous sentiment, and I'm not so sure we ought to be so afraid of hearing women enjoy receiving oral sex, either. What I find much more notable -- as well as baffling and confusing -- is how much Talk That Talk feels like a demo reel for something that's yet to come.

If the opening tracks felt like interludes, then "Birthday Cake" feels like nothing at all. At one minute and eighteen seconds, we get an intro, a chorus and then what sounds like a verse that inexplicably fades out, almost like Rihanna was about to have her Nipplegate moment on record and her producers decided to cut her off. It's akin to downloading a highlights mixtape on Datpiff in which the DJ queues up their favorite parts of given records and quickly flips from one to the next without giving the satisfaction of hearing the full song. The affect of this high energy sequencing is a collection of songs with no real reference for each other and a hope on behalf of Def Jam that hooks will always be enough to draw us into Rihanna's web. But if Rated R was the implication Rihanna's nothing without some truly massive hits and Loud the certificate of proof, then Talk That Talk is the attempt to manufacture that reality out of recycled parts. To that end it's no surprise, then, that the full songs are the most disappointing, particularly "Drunk on Love" for capturing none of the nervous, pregnant energy that the sampled "Intro" by current indie muse du jour the XX was so full of.

Singles-wise, it's hard to tell how successful Talk That Talk will be. It's sure to sell on brand recognition alone, but I doubt a series of mannered and soulless hooks are going to find much life outside of the European remix circuit. Last year I poo-poo'd Loud a little too much, leaving me wondering exactly how to treat an album as professional and yet apparently unfinished as Talk That Talk. I like "Watch 'n' Learn", the title track is cool if only for Jay-Z's casual banter and I guess I'll give ladies the benefit of the doubt on "We All Want Love" and "We Found Love", but there's nothing to love here, which is new territory for Rihanna. We always knew she was much more commercial brand than a musical artist, but Talk That Talk portrays her as such an assembly line product there's almost no way to react to it emotionally. As a musical product, it feels completely at odds with itself, one of those awkward moments when an album seems like it would have no reason to exist if not for SoundScans, board executives and iTunes Top Ten bragging rights. Talk That Talk is a pleasant listen, a brisk one, fans should be satisfied. Could I recommend spending money on it? No. Do I think it will have any effect on her career -- positive or negative -- at all? You'll have to get back to me next fall, when she's sure to have an answer for us.

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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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