Harmony: Robert Sherman (1925 - 2012) and 10 Musical Milestones

With his passing this past week, veteran songsmith Robert Sherman enters those most hallowed of music halls -- the myth. The Sherman Brothers crafted some of the most memorable music in the history of the Disney studio.

With his passing this past week, veteran songsmith Robert Sherman enters those most hallowed of music halls -- the myth. Even beyond his personal life -- he was with the platoon of American troops that liberated the German concentration camp Dachau during World War II -- and his many achievements and accolades, he will always been known by the sound he left behind, the lingering melodies and razor sharp lyrics that would keep generations humming and singing along. After a challenge from their Tin Pan Alley icon father Al, Robert and his brother Richard became a duo, delivering an early hit for Disney's reigning sweater girl, Annette Funicello. Their 1958 collaboration, "Tall Paul," got the attention of Walt, and he soon hired the duo as resident House of Mouse composers.

And thus the legacy was born. Over the next few years, the Shermans would craft some of the most memorable music in the history of the studio. They also ventured beyond the celluloid, coming up with material for Disney's theme parks ("In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room," "Making Memories") as well as the TV and theatre. When the venerable cartoonist died in 1966, the Brothers took their talents freelance, coming back from time to time to work on projects they deemed worthy. Nominated nine times for the Academy Award, he would pick up two for the family favorite Mary Poppins. In his later years, Robert would oversee the conversion of his work to the stage. In the final few years, and in failing health, he spent most of his time living in London and painting, a lifelong passion.

In celebration of this man and his amazing work, we have decided to pull together a Top Ten of sorts. This cannot possible represent everything Robert Sherman was responsible for -- even in today's peek preservationist ilk, some things are still MIA -- but it does provide a brief overview of his undeniable accomplishments. Also, as with any compilation, this is a matter of opinion. One item may have numerous awards to support a higher placement, but in our heart, it cannot trump our final choices. So beginning with one honest obscurity, here is our salute to Sherman:

#10: "The Monkey's Uncle" from The Monkey's Uncle
As a Mouseketeer, Annette was Disney's early TV medium breakout star. Hoping to translate said fame into something more mainstream, starring vehicles were immediately lined up. This one, featuring Tommy Kirk as the seminal character Merlin Jones and the fictional college setting of Midvale is unusual in one regard - it offered up The Beach Boys (yes, with THE Brian Wilson on bass) vamping the title tune. The Sherman's crafted the material in vein of the popular rock group, and the song remains a standout in an otherwise mediocre movie.

#9: "it's a small world"
The ultimate underage ear worm was originally conceived for the 1964 World's Fair. Known as "PEPSI Present's Walt Disney's "it's a small world" — a Salute to UNICEF and the World's Children," it was an immediate smash. Along with an animatronic Lincoln for the Illinois exhibit and the Carousel of Progress, the Fair became a testing ground for future attractions. In 1966, It's a Small World opened in Disneyland, and the rest is history. In fact, many don't know this but the Shermans actually conceived the song as a response to nuclear tensions around the globe.

#8: Charlotte's Web
After the reasonable return to form that is Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the boys decided to head out again and team up with the fledgling feature film fortunes of Hanna-Barbera. Their idea - bring E.B. White's beloved book about farmyard misfits to audiences everywhere. The result was another fine score by the Shermans, even if the movie was viewed as a "travesty" by the book's author. As a matter of fact, her strong words may have been responsible for the project's initial rejection by audiences. Today, almost all is forgiven.

#7: The Slipper and the Rose
By the mid '70s, the Shermans had taken on Disney, E.B. White, and A.A. Milne. They even made a pair of musicals based on Mark Twain's twin titans of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. So tackling the story of Cinderella was not big deal - that is, until it was selected as the Royal Command Performance for 1976. The British production, featuring Richard Chamberlain and Gemma Craven in the leads, was a moderate hit, highlighting the kind of simple, some would argue syrupy material the Brothers excelled at. The Queen Mother loved it, by the way.

#6: The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band
By 1968, the Shermans had lost faith in the Disney studios. When Walt was alive, they seemed to be more interested in movies than anything else. When he passed, the product side of the company came to the fore, pushing ideas like this one out into the edges of concern. With a smashing cast that included John Davidson, Kurt Russell, Buddy Ebson, Walter Brennan, Lesley Anne Warren, Goldie Hawn, and Richard Deacon, the story of the 1888 Presidential Election and the part played in it by the singing Bower family should have been a smash. Instead, just the terrific score remains.

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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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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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