Music

Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar: Golden Horns

The genteel ambassadors of Balkan brass would like to present their greatest hits.


Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar

Golden Horns

Label: Piranha
US Release Date: 2012-06-12
UK Release Date: 2012-06-11
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Maybe you have to see them live. In Chicago back in 2008, the headlong rush was incredible -- virtuosic but off-kilter, like flying along in one of those Indiana Jones mine cars only perfectly, surrounded by control and chaos all at once. Whatever musical devices they used to get that effect -- percussion perched on top of the beat? horns going slightly sharp? certainly the solos were more unhinged -- the rush comes across only occasionally on Golden Horns, a compilation from the Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar, Serbia’s premier brass band led by father Boban (flugelhorn) i son Marko (trumpet).

This is frustrating, if not unexpected. After all, "you gotta see ‘em live" is one of the biggest clichés of the recorded music era. (Maybe people said the same thing about unsatisfying sheet music -- "This Mozart aria reads OK, but you gotta hear it live, man.") Album opener "Khelipe e Cheasa" promises adventure, excitement, thrills, chills and sljivovica: somebody wolf-whistles, tenor horns blat and men shout "Hep!" on the offbeats, saxman Erol Demirov calls ducks, and the horn tuttis are surrounded by little warbling countermelodies. A party! But for all its promises, "Khelipe e Cheasa" doesn’t thrill. It’s a very pleasant song; the band switches from hook to ingratiating hook with professional ease, and their chops should make us proud to be human beings. The song closes with an aggressive shimmering cacophony, some horns trilling away while others interject melodic lines, and it’s all very impressive, but it’s hard not to feel like something’s missing.

Much brass band music, whether Balkan or banda, straightlaced Sousa or downtown New York, walks a particular sort of high-tension wire. The prevailing texture of this stuff is homogeneous. It’s got counterpoint -- a few horns work the melody, some other horns work the harmony, and maybe someone else throws in a countermelody -- but everyone’s working together towards a unified musical effect. What keeps things interesting is the threat of heterogeneity. The more musicians you get together, the greater the probability that something will go wrong intentionally or otherwise. The parts will diverge and someone’ll start playing an unexpected counterpoint that doesn’t quite fit, even as it ratchets up the excitement. This is simple math, the arithmetic of obnoxia.

On record at least, the Orkestar isn’t obnoxious enough. In the formulation of writer David Wondrich, they’ve got a lot of drive but not enough swerve. (Wondrich: “Whenever there’s a proper, legit, ‘dicty’ way of phrasing the tune in question and a musician plays something arbitrary, irrational, spontaneous, unexplainable, that’s the swerve.”) Partly this is a matter of expectations. You listen to most brass band music, including Balkan brass, with the expectation of craziness. Fanfare Ciocărlia plays chewy staccatos that threaten to become pure rhythm. Yolanda Pérez’s banda goes so fast and sharp you fear it’ll topple over. Something’s bound to go wrong. Indeed, the Orkestar plays up these expectations, rapping a song called "Sljivovica", shouting "Hep!" and "Hey!", subtitling the 2007 album that contributed several of these tunes Brass Madness. Not Brass Skill or Virtuoso Brass or Brass Who’ve Worked Really Hard to Cross Over. No, these guys claim to be mad crazy; they just don’t sound like it here. Their largely instrumental songs are about parties, but they don’t bring the party itself. They’ve premeditated every "Hep!" and "Hey!"

That’s not to say I couldn’t listen to them for a while. Golden Horns compiles some fine moments, from the ‘70s car-chase tribute "Dzumbus Funk" to the burnished spaghetti Western vibe of "Obećanje". Besides their trademark polkas, the Markovićs and their drumline touch on all sorts of rhythms: funk, reggaeton, ska, swing, you name it, and that’s not counting the two limp dance remixes tacked onto the end. They throw in winking touchstones like Mozart’s 40th Symphony (you know: "dunaNA dunaNA dunaNAHNA! dunaNA dunaNA dunaNA!") and, in the album’s most thrilling moment, a live version of "Hava Naguila" whose swerve comes from its playful tempo changes. Their tunes are catchy and their burbling arrangements always carry plenty of momentum. Balkan brass could do worse than these genteel ambassadors.

The Orkestar sort of reminds me of two rock groups I love: Sonic Youth and Lightning Bolt. They’ve fashioned unique styles for themselves, you could imagine them working minor variations on those styles until the world ends, and they all nod to a transgressive craziness that, at this point, you know they’ll never actually deliver. For all their noise, Lightning Bolt basically play groovy dadrock, and all the Markovićs’ party promises amount to enjoyable family music for public lawns. Go see ‘em live. The adults drink, the kids dance, sometimes vice versa, and everyone has a fine time before driving home in their SUVs. The group’s virtuosity is never in doubt. If it was, they might sound more exciting, but they'd have trouble getting gigs and you’d be way less likely to hear them.

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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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