Reviews

MAD About You: An Open Letter to MAD's "Usual Gang of Idiots"

Thanks a lot, you Usual Gang of Idiots. You just broke Satire! Used to be I could sit back on my couch and chuckle it up because satire was just entertainment. No chance of that after your "20 Dumbest of 2011".


MAD #512 "20 Dumbest of 2011"

Publisher: Time/Warner
Length: 22 pages
Writer: The Usual Gang of Idiots
Price: $5.99 (cheap!)
Publication Date: 2012-02
Amazon

Congratulations, you Usual Gang of Idiots, you broke Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter was safe, Hunter was comfortable. It was warm there, in the shadow of his writing. Not so much the crazy, wilder, Hunter who became that iconic, cult figure. Not Hunter the demigod who spoke truth to power with that gonzo zeal. But the Hunter who wrote for a mass audience in Rolling Stone. The Hunter who was learning to become that icon. The Hunter who was cruel, and reckless, and carefree, and deeply passionate. The Hunter who died on the inside when he witnessed the police beatings at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago '68. The Hunter who wielded a typewriter like a gun in Fear & Loathing on the '72 Campaign Trail. The Hunter who cared.

That was a great Hunter. That Hunter was all the Hunter any of us needed. That was the Hunter who would simply Appear in the popular imagination, at some crisis point of national conscience. That Hunter would cast a jaundiced eye, then he'd weave his magic with words.

It was easy to fall under the spell.

His writing was rich, deep, thought-provoking. He saw something wrong in that world and his writing would simply swallow it up. And somewhere in that flow of thousands of words we'd understand. That was the magic. We'd understand and we'd care about. And we'd keep reading. We'd get drawn deeper in. It's hard not to share in Hunter's first wife Sandy Thompson's regret (expressed in the documentary Gonzo: the Life and Times of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) when she says that more than ever this world needs a Hunter who's "together". A "together" Hunter comes to us as a magnetic north. He was our compass star, our measure, our secret map to the pirate's gold of truth. And yet.

And yet, how did we ever manage to work ourselves free from Hunter's ornately laconic web of wonder? The sad truth is, we never really did. No one in my generation, at least. By the time Hunter reached us, he was already fully-formed, already the Patron Saint of Truth-Telling. The wonder of him lay in the alacrity he communicated through his language. His Gonzo journalism was everything to us. And as removed from the issues he wrote of as we were, Hunter had sadistically been reduced to entertainment by some Unseen Hand. We couldn't do the things his writing so clearly showed needed doing, but we sure could enjoy his writing about them. Somewhere, somehow, Hunter had been stolen from me and my entire generation.

Then there's you, you Usual Gang of Idiots.

Everything you do comes in the cloak of entertainment. Everything is just one laugh after another. Except somehow, your work seems to never let me go. Hunter's become a cerebral appreciation, literally his books grace the top shelf of my bookcase. It's where I can go and leaf through its pages any time I like. But your work, your work… It's there in my mind. It's with me at 3am when I cannot sleep and the demons come, when Tom Waits' "Little Drop of Poison" plays on loop in my mind.

You should write jokes, one-liners, your work shouldn't get me thinking for myself, and keep me thinking. I should be able to laugh and then put you aside. I can do it with Letterman, with South Park, with Stewart and Colbert. So why won't you let me do it with you?

Take your "20 Dumbest of 2011" issue. "Sheen Lantern" hits at #6. "Sheen Lantern"! In one fell swoop you dismantle not only Charlie Sheen's public meltdown, but also the culture he's railing against. And to top it off there's an almost-unnoticed jab in there about superhero movies flagging at the box office. It takes Bret Easton Ellis 4,000 words to get there. You get there with "Sheen Lantern" and the tagline "'Winning' isn't everything".

Or your "MAD Look at Protests". In a year that we've seen the rise of the concept of hacktivism, in a year when your sister-publication, TIME, names its Person of the Year as the anonymous "Protester", you come up with throwaway cartoons that illustrate both the passion of the Occupiers and the pure, human crazy of their tactics. How do you make fun of both sides of the argument and leave me with nothing but a pure critique of the situation?

Or #12, your parody of NetFlix CEO Reed Hasting's memo to customers. Did you realize you'd foreshadow the furore around Congress' hearings around the Stop Online Piracy Act. An Act that if passed, will present serious Constitutional challenges to the First Amendment, certain scholars have argued. An Act that threatens the freedom of speech we all enjoy currently via the internet. An Act that now, even Sony, a former chief supporter, has withdrawn from.

I know who's to blame. It's that rabble-rousing Editor of yours, John Ficarra. He can tell me that the crazy starts right at the beginning of the year. He can say, "I open a file on Dumb Things on January 1st", but I can see through that to what he's really saying. He's saying he's slow and methodical and deeply focused on finding the humor in everything. He's saying what Anthony Bourdain (1) said about Chinese cooking being "the Mother of all cuisines on this planet". That in Chinese cuisine there's a tradition of peasants needing to work with flavor to make peasant dishes more palatable, and simultaneously there's an imperial tradition of gastronomic engineers toiling tirelessly to produce that one stroke of genius innate to the dish they're working on. John's saying that you toil tirelessly to find that vein of true critical thought in everything you do. He's saying you're the true philosophers, before the Libraries and the Universities got a hold of them.

So, how dare you, you Usual Gang of Idiots, how dare you? How dare you hold my Freedom of Speech to a higher standard by equipping me with Freedom of Thought? How dare you make me see, so flawlessly, not the world in front of me that simply doesn't work, but make me see the world that could be so much better? You've not only broken Hunter S. Thompson, you've broken satire. You've simply undone any kind of avenue I've had for kicking back and mistaking satire for entertainment.

My world's bigger now. I can finally take the kind of action that changes things.

Thanks a lot, you Usual Gang of Idiots.

* * *

(1) Anthony Bourdain speaking with Marc Maron on the very excellent podcast WTF the episode is available for free download. The conversation around Chinese cuisine plays at around 1:13:40 of the episode.

10

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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