Music

If You Choose Not to Decide: The 10 Best Rush Songs

Beloved by musicians and originally shunned by critics, Rush continues to win fans and even detractors well into their fourth decade of making music. With the Canadian trio's new album Clockwork Angels due for release in just a few days, Sound Affects counts down the ensemble's top ten songs.

In the 1980s and '90s, Rush was lumped into the "beloved by musicians, hated by critics" category of rock. As a band, Rush even helped supply an argument against music critics in general. When a band is hated by people, who in general, have not produced any music themselves while many people who actually make music swear by them; whose side holds more weight and credibility?

But in the last decade, Rush's credibility increased considerably amongst critics. One possible reason is the embrace of progressive rock and conceptual albums by such critically-adored bands like the Decemberists and Titus Andronicus. Another reason could be pop culture's full embrace of the band, which can be found in a typical episode of Family Guy or as a centerpiece of the hit movie I Love You, Man. Even in the late '90s, Stephen Malkmus treated Rush's lead singer with kid gloves by simply wondering why Geddy Lee's voice was so high in "Stereo", but mercilessly doing a hit job on the Smashing Pumpkins in "Range Life".

Unlike most of its progressive rock peers, Rush has always leaned more toward actual songs instead of 20-minute epics. Love them or hate them, lines like "Even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" and "Oooooooof salesmen!" are as prevalent in rock as "If I leave here tomorrow" and "Here we are now, entertain us". To mark the release of Canadian group's latest effort Clockwork Angels -- just a few days away -- here are ten reasons the critics had it wrong all those years.

 
10. "Stick It Out"
Counterparts (1993)

In the late '80s and early '90s, Rush began moving out of the synth-dominated sounds of its early and mid-'80s releases and embracing a more rock-oriented sound, without reverting entirely back to its '70s-era form. Presto and Roll the Bones had Rush transitioning into the '90s. But with the opening gristle-free guitar riff supplied by Alex Lifeson on "Stick It Out", fans were given a leaner Rush that actually bore some teeth in its licks. In 1993, bands were either stripping down their sound or trying to add elements of sludge to make their music "heavier". But "Stick It Out"'s tight structure was more of the sound of a band doing more with less, not pandering to a new music genre.

 
9. "Manhattan Project"
Power Windows (1985)

In my high school, a running joke for non-Rush fans was that listening to trio was like listening to a history lesson. The textbook example of this was "Manhattan Project". In the span of five minutes, the history of the nuclear bomb is laid out like a slide show. What makes the track memorable is the treatment of the event: an almost bloodless "you are there" account of the key players, from the builders to the pilot of the Enola Gay. Neil Peart's sharp, methodical drumming propels the song like a speeding timeline.

 
8. "The Pass"
Presto (1999)

Rush did ballads before Presto, most notably with "Closer to the Heart". But on "The Pass", one of the most accomplished bassists in rock structures the song around four simple notes. Obviously, when you write a song about a "message" song (in this case suicide), you run the risk of having the lyrics turn into maudlin melodrama. But Neil Peart keeps things concrete; "Static on your frequency / Electrical storms in your veins" Geddy Lee sings before stating "All of us get lost in the darkness". The song itself may not have the fireworks of other Rush tracks, but Lee's impassioned cry "Christ, what have you done?!" provides a stinging catharsis to the song, and makes "The Pass" one of the band's most effective emotional efforts.

 
7. "Y Y Z"
Moving Pictures (1981)

Rock instrumentals have always been a gamble. Far too often, the perceived freedom from the "verse-chorus-verse" lyrical structure gives artists a chance to either go overboard in showing off their musical chops, or push a listener's patience by incessant noodling. Not the case with "Y Y Z". At a lean five minutes, the song begins with an S-O-S-type percussive beat from Peart before Lifeson's guitar makes the song sound like an Emergency Broadcast Message. Many Rock Band parties owe a serious debt to "Y Y Z".

 
6. "Force Ten"
Hold Your Fire (1987)

Rush has made better songs than "Force Ten". Other cuts better reflect the band's talents. However, in my 20-plus years as a fan, I don't know of any Rush song that has popped in my head so frequently. Be it Peart's jackhammer-like percussion at the beginning, to the chorus, it ranks up with "Freewill" as Rush's catchiest track. Chances are if you're in the presence of a Rush fan and mutter "We can rise and fall like empires", the other person will finish your sentence. That's the mark of a great single.

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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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