Reviews

These Ain't No Sesame Street Muppets: 'Farscape: The Complete Series'

Farscape: The Complete Series on blu-ray is hours (and hours and hours) of groundbreaking, imaginative, quality entertainment.


Farscape

Distributor: A&E; Entertainment
Cast: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe
Network: Sci-Fi
UK release date: 2011-11-14
US release date: 2011-11-15
Amazon

Co-created by Rockne S. O'Bannon and Brian Henson, Farscape was many things during its 1999-2003 run. It was the then Sci-Fi Channel's flagship show. It was a technological wonder that also displayed really great writing. It was a drama. It had comedy. And action. And adventure. And animatronics (many characters were products of Jim Henson's Creature Shop). It was a groundbreaking science fiction space opera that drew passionately devoted fans. Now, all 88 original episodes of the four seasons are available on the blu-ray set Farscape: The Complete Series

The story begins when astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) gets sucked through a wormhole during a test flight, and ends up on the other side of the universe. He is brought aboard a sentient, bio-mechanoid ship named Moya amidst a prison break from the militaristic Peacekeepers. Peacekeepers come from a race called Sebacean which very closely resembles humans, but the other beings Crighton encounters are decidedly more alien in appearance.

Moya's escapee passengers include D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a Luxan warrior with dreadlocked tentacles; Zhaan (Virginia Hey), an empathic blue priestess who happens to be part plant; and Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy), a deposed Dominar who eats everything and farts helium when he's nervous. Also on board is Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu), who is physically bonded to Moya in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Rygel and Pilot are Henson creations, but these are not your kid's kind of Muppets (helium farts notwithstanding).

Crichton's sudden appearance, mid-battle, causes all sorts of problems, not the least of which occurs when his lunar module is hit by a Peacekeeper prowler, killing its pilot who just happens to be the baby brother of baddie Peacekeeper Captain Crais. This sets up the first conflict, as Crais will naturally go to any lengths for revenge.

The second source of conflicts comes from the prisoners' capture of another Peacekeeper pilot, officer Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black). She makes the momentary mistake of trying to defend Crighton, and Crais declares her "contaminated", which means that she, too, must now be on the run from Peacekeeper forces. In addition to becoming a part of Moya's motley crew as it evades capture and explores the uncharted territories, Aeryn eventually becomes a love interest for Crighton as he attempts to adjust to his new life and tries to find a way back home to Earth.

For the first few seasons Farscape focuses on Crighton's adjustment to his alien environment, and his companions' acceptance of him. Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a grey-skinned, sexy, trouble-maker of a Nebari girl, comes aboard and a new villain enters the picture in the form of Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who pursues and tortures Crighton, trying to unlock the secrets of wormhole travel that have been locked in his subconscious mind. Other characters come in (Stark, Jool), some change allegiances (Crais), and some die (Zhaan).

These seasons are fun and exciting as we get to know each of the characters and meet worlds of strange and fantastic new beings. Aeryn and Crighton's relationship is a major plot point, as does a neural-implant Scorpius inflicts on Crighton, and the stories often touch on all the standard sci-fi fare , but in non-predictable ways (a Crighton clone, for instance, who takes off on Moya's son-ship, Talyn, with Crais and Aeryn Sun).

By the start of the fourth season, Moya's crew is fragmented, separated, and Aeryn may be pregnant with Crighton's child. Noranti, a nutty old woman who assumes some of the spiritual roles formerly addressed in Zhaan or Stark, has joined the main characters, as has Sikozu, a wall-walking know-it-all Kalish woman, though her tenure is a bit brief. Season four is also fragmented, and a lot of that comes down to the storyline that takes the characters to Earth. Sure, a lot of the "aliens-discovering-human-society" stuff is funny (Chiana's impressions of, and reactions to, life on Earth are priceless), but much of it feels like lazy storytelling. This runs over into other story lines as well, dragging down the latter half of the fourth season. Or perhaps it doesn't work simply because the show's creators didn't get to realize a planned fifth season (despite the truly heroic efforts of the aforementioned fan base!). The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries later attempted to wrap up loose ends and give the fans closure, but it's not included on this set.

What is on this set, however, is impressive. The 20 Blu-ray discs include all 88 unedited episodes remastered from the highest quality source material available, so the image quality is somewhat better than DVD releases and the sound is much improved by its availability in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Bonus features account for than 15 hours of entertainment, with 31 commentary tracks, which feature, variously, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Brian Henson and Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Producer/Writer David Kemper, Anthony Simcoe, Lani Tupu and Director Peter Andrikidis. Many episode menus contain deleted and alternate scenes, totaling more than an hour and a half of edited footage.

There are several documentary pieces and featurettes, including "In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson", "Making of a Space Opera", and "Inside Farscape: Save Farscape" as well as video profiles and behind-the-scenes interviews. This set also features Farscape Undressed, the rarely seen behind-the-scenes special hosted by Browder and Black, and Memories of Maya: An Epic Journey Explored, which is a brand new documentary in which the cast and crew fondly recall their experiences and discuss Farscape place in sci-fi and television history. Farscape: The Complete Series on blu-ray is hours (and hours and hours) of groundbreaking, imaginative, quality entertainment.

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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