Music

Sinéad O’Connor: How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Scathing protests, familial longings, and one very improbable character study -- all unmistakably Sinéad.

Sinéad O'Connor

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-03-05
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Good Lord, there are moments here as bloodcurdling as anything she’s ever done. Sinéad O’Connor, that is; and “here” is her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, on which the most bloodcurdling moment is the song “Take Off Your Shoes”. “Shoes” has been kicking around the internet for a while, but it sounds especially ferocious coming after the optimistic “Old Lady” (more on that in a bit). “I bleed the blood of Jesus over you”, O’Connor begins, invoking some terrifying divine presence bleeding vengeance, not forgiveness, over the heathens. “The Holy Spirit sings to the Vatican”, she describes it; I hear the magisterial title characters from Angels in America. For bloody judgment, “Shoes” also recalls Tori Amos’s rendition of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”, which Amos envisioned as “a huge juicy vagina coming out of the sky, raining blood over all those racist, misogynist fuckers” -- i.e., oppressors of women in Afghanistan.

But O’Connor doesn’t settle for Amos’s quiet creepiness -- she embodies the avenging Spirit, building and building in intensity, multitracking the different timbres of her voice into a caterwaul that combines the best elements of an air raid siren and a slap in the face. To read her climactic words -- “I see you’re runnin’ out of battery! / And I don’t see no bunnies / Around here” -- is to wonder how she’s survived as a lyricist. But who are we to argue when the Holy Spirit (or whoever) sees theological implications in the Energizer Bunny? As in The Sopranos, when Tony would fret over some mundane aspect of family life before committing brutal murders, O’Connor’s stream of corniness renders her divine force more believable and more shocking.

Also shocking, given her recent marital yo-yos in real life, is this line from the bouncy album opener “4th and Vine”: “I’m gonna marry my love / And we’ll be happy for all time.” Later in the song she waxes about having six children who will also be happy for all time, just because everybody in the O’Connor household loves one another so much, tra la la. (She also transforms “buggy ride” into a useful sex euphemism.) Two other songs celebrate love in terms most eight-year-olds would understand. On the first single “The Wolf Is Getting Married”, the lucky Wolf will “never cry again”. And in the aforementioned “Old Lady”, O’Connor dreams, “One day he’ll say, ‘That’s my girl’ / The happiest words in the world / Make me laugh like an idiot / Not be so serious”. This from a woman who wrote and sang “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”, a clear-eyed account of divorce, 22 years ago! She must know that marriages, even successful ones, don’t bring about happiness “for all time”, so what’s going on here?

What’s happening is that O’Connor the lyricist is getting better and better at apparent artlessness. Much like John Lennon on Double Fantasy or Lou Reed on New Sensations, O’Connor writes songs that seem like simple conduits for her personality. Her lyrics don’t put on airs and they invite derision. She writes lines that nobody aiming for the Great Irish Songbook would ever allow themselves. So, you know, her Holy Spirit really digs Energizer commercials. Or, when O’Connor impersonates a lovestruck teenager in “Old Lady”, she writes with diaristic awkwardness, “I even act like I don’t like him... [Because] everyone would know I love him / And that’s so uncool / ‘Cause it’s messing with all the rules”. In the moving, not-quite-acapella closer “V.I.P.”, O’Connor becomes a rhymin’ preacher, decrying Kanye-style bling and organized religion like they’re the same thing: “To whom exactly are we giving hope / When we stand behind the velvet rope / Or get our pictures taken with the Pope / Like some sick April fool kind of joke”. Her cover of John Grant’s hilarious, rambling “Queen of Denmark” fits in perfectly. She’s pared her songwriting back to its essence -- simple lines that sort of rhyme -- to better express her messy, inexpressible personality.

When this approach works, as it does gloriously in “Old Lady” and “4th and Vine”, the songs’ simplicity opens up a world of complexity. (When it doesn’t work, as on the icky “I Had a Baby”, O’Connor’s lyrical diary crosses the line into navel-gazing.) Of course O’Connor knows getting married won’t make her “happy for all time”. But the more desperately she clings to the promise of eternal bliss, the more poignant her songs become. Listening to the whole album, with its mix of angry songs butted right up next to familial longings, it’s easy to see your own complex anger in the juxtaposition, particularly since the Catholic Church’s PR department lately prizes tone-deaf arrogance over all else. (Seriously, I wanna love the Church, but “Shoes” and “V.I.P.” make me mad at the whole enterprise. Has any other recent protest music been so potent?) O’Connor, like all of us, contains multitudes.

Fortunately for Sinéad the songwriter, she’s working with Sinéad the vocalist, who possesses a divine gift: on any given note, she can choose from four or five different voices, all unmistakably Sinéad. Multitudes of multitudes! She moves from whispers to bleats and back again, sometimes within the same syllable. O’Connor and her longtime drummer/producer John Reynolds create choirs of sweet, angelic Sinéads to ping pong behind braying Sinéads, while more plainspoken Sinéads deliver “V.I.P.” in austere harmony. The versatile band of studio professionals -- guitar, bass, drums, and organ -- supply momentum and atmosphere, and then get out of the way of O’Connor’s forthright melodies. There’s hardly anything in the way of riffs or solos, nothing to distract from the tumbling cascades of Sinéads.

Besides “I Had a Baby”, a couple other songs don’t work. On a 10-song album, that’s a problem, though not as big a problem as you might expect -- it’s paced well. Most glaring is the junkie profile “Reason With Me”, an improbable character study where the character inhabits Sinéad’s writing style, rather than the other way around. “Oh so long I been a junkie / I ought to wrap it up and mind my monkeys”, indeed. Much like Ani DiFranco’s unsuccessful new character study “Life Boat”, “Reason With Me” shows that its author is at her best when she’s herself, unfettered and larger than life. Sinéad O’Connor remains character enough.

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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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