Books

Post-Apocalypse, Zoe Marshall Becomes Her Own White Knight in 'White Horse'

White Horse is gritty fun that gets where it's going -- just not at a gallop.


White Horse

Publisher: Emily Bester Books/ATRIA
Length: 306
Author: Alex Adams
Price: $19.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-04
Amazon

White Horse is the first book in what will eventually be a trilogy. Often in trilogies (notwithstanding Star Wars episodes IV-VI), the first installment is the strongest, and the other two ride the coattails of the their successor’s innovation, to varying degrees of success. Though it’s impossible to say for sure at this point, Alex Adams’ White Horse feels like exactly the opposite: the precursor to something much bigger and better than is contained within its own pages. That said, what is there is enough to substantiate the book in its own right and make a reader eager for more.

White Horse is the name of the disease that wipes out most of the population and turns many of the survivors into mutants. In her old life, our protagonist, Zoe Marshall, was a janitor at the pharmaceutical company that invented the plague. In her new life, with Earth irrevocably damaged by war, her friends and family dead, and a baby inside her, Zoe journeys across the Atlantic and through the wastelands of Europe, ostensibly in search of her therapist-turned-lover, Nick, but really to somehow prove to herself that there is anything left worth living for.

She is an odd mixture of parts, at once needy and defiantly self-sufficient, wisecracking her way through a gruesome landscape as she wipes away her tears. In another book, she would be the neurotic-yet-lovable 30-year-old, wryly deferring the advances of the unsuitable blind dates her mother finds for her. In this world, she uses a chair to nearly kill a man who’s been raping his niece, trades her blood for passage on a boat, and clings desperately to the thought that it’s still possible to be a good person. Sometimes her insistence on morality seems noble; other times it is frustratingly idiotic.

Zoe is meant to be a kind of Pandora, as evidenced by the sealed jar that mysteriously appears in her apartment one day, which she is terrified of opening. But somewhere around the time she meets Medusa and consults the Oracle of Delphi, I realized that Zoe is also the Danaë to a seeming Perseus, who, should he survive, seems destined to serve as a source of hope and illumination to the ravaged population. The development of the symbolic mythological overtones into literal components of the plot was unexpected.

Suddenly, I realized that the book’s inside flap, pitching the story as one in which “Zoe comes to see that humans are defined not by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices,” was not was the book was actually about, or at least not what it should be about. This new world, these mutants, this potentially epic landscape, are what the book should have been about from the time Zoe starts her journey. Enjoyable as these revelations were, they were not truly of a piece with the rest of the book, which seemed at first to be standard post-apocalyptic zombie movie fare.

This incongruence is largely due to the unnecessary pages the book devotes to describing the “Then” portion of the “Then” and “Now” segments into which it is divided. There are two ways to go in a post-apocalyptic world. Down one road, we can find out what caused the apocalypse so that we can attempt to stop whatever it is that caused it, and hopefully return to some semblance of the world we had before. But Adams’ world is one that is hurtling headlong down Road Number Two: The Road of No Return (and yes, I magnanimously offer that as a title, free of charge, should the book get picked up for film).

Adams spends too much time giving us back story, as if solving the riddle of how it all started will somehow be of consequence to Zoe’s fate and the fate of the new world. Meanwhile, there are no clues to suggest that these pages will ever prove to be part of an overarching narrative. If Adams does decide to use any of the origin story in the future books, it will require masterful plot weaving.

The less than graceful plot transition is not the only indication that the book lacks tight focus. Adams’ strain shows in her uneven prose, which sometimes produces wonderful, painfully vivid images like this: “A woman is lying on the ground nearby. I help her up... Another woman is a magician’s trick gone wrong, her body severed by a sheet of corrugated iron.” Other times, it lapses into cliché, as when Zoe confronts an enemy: “Come on, asshole. You and me. Right here.” Or when she meets the man who was president of the United States: “We speak of other things… of apple pie and ice cream, of baseball, of times when people still celebrated July Fourth.”

Had White Horse only been a story about a woman looking for her lover at the end of the world, I would have enjoyed it simply because I like a good apocalypse story. But its ambitions raised it above my initial expectations and made me hopeful that the remaining installments will spend less time looking back. Next book, this horse needs to plow forward, whatever may lie ahead.

6

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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