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'American Experience: Clinton' Assesses the Comeback Kid, Again

So many of the political struggles in Clinton sound like the turmoil and responses that have characterized Barack Obama's presidency so far, that you're left to ponder whether anyone has learned any lessons.

American Experience: Clinton

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8:30pm ET
Cast: Jonathan Alter, Kofi Anan, Sandy Berger, James Carville, Michael Isikoff, Dee Dee Meyers, Robert Reich, Gail Sheehy, Jeffrey Toobin, Campbell Scott (narrator)
Network: PBS
Director: Barak Goodman
Air date: 2012-02-20
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"How many second chances does any one person deserve?" asks Dee Dee Meyers. "Clinton's view is, as many second chances as a person is willing to try to take, you know? I mean, as many times as you fail, don’t you deserve the chance to redeem yourself? Isn't history loaded with people who have fallen and gotten up and fallen and gotten up and fallen and gotten up and done great things?"

The soundtrack music swells as Meyers speaks and the scene cuts to a clip of Bill Clinton at a podium, arms up and voice hoarse while he proclaims, "We will together build a bridge to the 21st century, wide enough and strong enough to take us to America's best days." Such a call for collaboration is common enough in presidential speechmaking. Still, as becomes clear in American Experience: Clinton -- premiering 20 and 21 February on PBS -- the context for Clinton is specific. On his second inauguration, when he most famously referred to this bridge, he had already endured four years of ongoing battle with the Republican party, including dramatic Democratic losses in the Senate and House during midterm elections. And he was about to face more and increasingly brutal fights.

To survive, he would need all his skills, which friends and enemies alike agree are formidable. "There's a stick-to-it-iveness about him that's just phenomenal," observes Max Brantley, "an abiding belief that if he can just have enough time, he can win over just about anybody." Clinton has had that time, before, during, and since his presidency, and he's still working to win over "just about anybody."

As Clinton has it, these efforts when he was president were alternately noble and ruthless, intelligent and stubborn. If the program doesn't reveal much new information about Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, it does lay out a chronology that suggests some causes and effects, surmising that their partnership has evolved according to their needs, mutual and individual, as well as the needs of those around them.

That's not to say that the interviewees, from James Carville and Joe Klein to Lucien Goldberg and Trent Lott, have much to say about their own parts in Clinton's presidency. They play predictably sober roles in Barak Goodman's film, remembering what happened when and occasionally characterizing what they saw. "It was so clear he was an exceptionally talented politician from the kind of get-go," says Carville. "His ability to adapt, his ability to walk into a room, to size up an issue, to understand. I've never seen a candidate, I've never seen a human being who, with the most limited briefing, can understand the dimensions, the parameters, the nuances of everything of any kind of a policy or political problem." Just so, the film shows Clinton doing what he does best, conversing with citizens, looking into their eyes and touching their arms in apparently heartfelt sympathy.

This capacity to make someone "feel like I was the only person in the room," serves Clinton well throughout his career, the program points out, and it also left him unprepared for the hardball politics of Washington when he was elected in 1992. And here the story sounds very much like that of Barack Obama, from the assumption he would be able to convince opponents get along to his early frustrations with aggressive tactics used by people like Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr. (It's not a little disquieting to listen to Gingrich then, as his declared themes and tactics sound so similar to what he's saying now.)

Again and again, Clinton was drawn into fights he couldn't win (Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the hoped-for health care overhaul are prime examples), and confronted with opposition that seemed designed to bring down the US government rather than let Clinton or the Democrats "win." (Again, this story is dismayingly familiar.) As much as Clinton wiggled and maneuvered, he continually struggled with his adversaries. Increasingly, these adversaries saw and promoted their grievances as personal, and their efforts to make him, first an "illegitimate" president (because the '92 vote was split three ways, with Ross Perot included), and then, a dishonest big-government cheat, find echoes in recent tactics regarding Barack Obama.

As the second term began, Clinton overcame early "foreign policy missteps" and came to promote the Clinton Doctrine, advancing the United States, as Wesley Clark phrases it, "as an indispensible nation," and further, one committed to the idea that "where you can make a difference, you should." Domestically, he attended to Morris' incessant polling, working to get done what he could get done. That is, turned to "a politics of the possible," enacting smaller bits of policy, attending to the needs of the middle class, and pursuing what Morris identifies as "a third way." That is, until he ran into his impeachment, a months-long process that distracted the Congress from legislating and left the population disgusted with both parties.

As all this sounds so much like the turmoil and responses that have characterized Obama's presidency so far, you're left to ponder whether anyone has learned any lessons.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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