Critical Confessions 27: Forget Me Lots

No one likes to redo a job they've done before. In the realm of film criticism, it's amazing it doesn't happen more often.

It rarely happens, but when it does, it definitely sets you back a bit. The other day, I was assigned an upcoming theatrical release for review. The title and the core concept sounded vaguely familiar, but in the realm I was dealing with - horror movies - that's par for the spook show course. Thinking nothing more than beyond the upcoming deadline, I settled in with my screener, watched as the movie unfolded a bit like I expected, and marveled at the message buried subliminally within the standard haunted house (or in this case, haunted family) dynamic. By the end, I was mildly impressed, capable of coming up with the mandatory 600 words-plus to meet my obligation.

As I sat down to write the review, I felt odd, a bit uneasy. There was a weird sense of pseudo deja-vu running through my thoughts, an aura of undeniable if I had been here before, commenting on the exact same thing. Again, I chalked it up to the copycat conceits of the genre and the hundreds of movies I have seen over the years. In May, I will have been a quasi-professional film critic for 10 years, and in that decade I have seen close to 5000 films. I average between 7 to 10 per week (between theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray), not including the rare instance where I actually enjoy a movie for personal fun. Any sneaking suspicion I had could be chalked up to a kind of aesthetic repetitive stress disorder.

With the review edited and ready for publication, I headed over to the site's database and began inputting the proper information. I called up the automatic cast/crew menu, clicked on the various categories and tags, and made sure that all the coding and internal links were active. The final step was to make sure that the final copy was sent to the editors for approval. Following a system by which I labeled the file with my last name, and then the title of the movie, I was shocked to see the computer assigning it the duplicate label of "Gibron-X1," in this case "Gibron -Intruder1." Using the 'Search' component of my word processing program, I discovered the original "Gibron-Intruders" file.

That's right - I had already reviewed the 'recent' Clive Owen vehicle. Way back in October (I dug through my pile of screeners and found the original disc sent to me) I had watched this tale of two families terrorized by a wannabe fright icon labeled 'Hollow-Face' and had given it my half-hearted approval. I was unmoved by the fright, but found the underlying context rather riveting (not to spoil things, but the reason this fiend is stalking the family has less to do with the supernatural and more to do with a nasty crime narrowly averted decades before). I praised the director for his use of atmosphere and the desire to avoid typical scary movie stereotypes. The end result was a moderate success and I said as much.

Stunned, I went back to the review I had just posted and read the text. This time around, I picked up on a few different things, but for the most part, my thoughts were the same. Exactly the same. Like some kind of automatic writing. I didn't find Hollow-Face scary (and frankly, have to wonder about those who would) and thought that the last act de-evolved into the kind of fairytale dread that others have done better. I was amazed at how much alike the two pieces really were. In fact, it got me thinking about my career choice, the overload of information I have to process each week, and the possibility of repetition that's apparently inherent within such a spread thin situation.

Remember, no one is getting rich being a writer. Unless you're last name is Rowling, Meyer, Collins or King, you're probably not living the high life off of your words. Instead, you are more than likely involved in a "real job" (teacher, editor, IT tech guy, PR person) or just freelancing your ass off. Some are lucky enough to land salaried gigs, but the days of a journeyman journalist sitting back in the office punching out a collection of reviews for the evening edition are long...long....LONG gone. Instead, it's all about the scoop, about being first among a sea of bloggers who (theoretically) have nothing better to do than sit around their parents' basement parsing through their latest cinematic obsessions.

Yet you'd think a smart man - and I do consider myself educated and learned - would remember seeing a movie where the main motivating factor is an inference of pedophilia and the lingering pain produced by said familial dysfunction. The reason "Hollow-Face" returns is rather obvious (especially when you recognize the connection between the two seemingly divergent narratives) and the resolution avoids direct clarification to keep everything ethereal and unreal.

Now, granted, I do end up having to revisit titles, my initial reaction in the theater modified or moderated thanks to another viewing on home video. But to almost completely forget a film is just too surreal. So the question becomes how does one forget such things - and better yet, how can they spend hours rewriting a review they've already written, without recalling a single element from the first opinion and yet come to a startling similar conclusion?

Perhaps it's like the athlete who stops competing for a while, only to take up his particular sports mantle again and fall directly back into it with little or no effort. Maybe it's a kind of mental muscle memory, the product of a decade's worth of critical decisions. It could be even more personal, a propensity for or against certain stories or cinematic circumstances resulting in oddly similar responses. Or it might just be one of the many rarities that come with the job. After all, reviewing film is the essence of managing mediocrity. Remember, if you see 300 films a year, only a dozen or so are going to be great and/or god-awful. That leaves hundreds huddled right in the middle, making the most minor of impressions.

In some ways, that's the case with Intruders. The one facet that made the film fascinating carried over across several months, but the rest was interchangeable and uninspired. There was no great central performance, no moment when director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo announced himself as the next Guillermo Del Toro or J.A. Bayona. Instead, the premise was placed within the usual suspense struggles and came up empty. In fact, the reason for one's lack of memory could be nothing more than a lack of being memorable. Given the nature of the professional beast, it's no wonder something like this doesn't happen more often.

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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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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