Music

The Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania (take 1)

Oceania is further proof that Corgan has created an interesting and captivating reboot of a beloved '90s band.


The Smashing Pumpkins

Oceania

Label: Martha's Music
US Release Date: 2012-06-19
UK Release Date: 2012-06-18
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Once a band makes it big, they can no longer shuffle around players and still call themselves by the same name. The feel, symbiosis and general authenticity of the band loses something the minute more than half of the founding members jump ship. The Smashing Pumpkins is no exception. When they “reunited” (read: Billy Corgan decided to call himself Smashing Pumpkins because his side project Zwan, and solo career, tanked, huge), there seemed to be an immediate amnesiac attack on Corgan’s part as to precisely what made the Pumpkins so great. Although the Pumpkins enjoyed their heavy rock tunes (“Zero”, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Rhinoceros”), these tracks were perfectly complemented by quirky slower-tempo acoustic tracks (“Disarm”, “To Sheila”, and “Stumbeline”). Zeitgeist, the band’s “comeback” album fared pretty well in the charts but neglected the varied take on rock music that made the pumpkins so great. It dared to present the band as a macho, glossed over and slick muscle band, when really they’ve always been the voice of those that found themselves on the fringes -- the antithesis of machismo rock.

Thankfully, Corgan began to drop any pretense of a “comeback” and reverted back to the artistic and varied style that gave the Pumpkins their charm. Teargarden by Kaleidyscope began to highlight the better parts of the Pumpkins, more so than their reincarnated second debut. A conceptual recording of 44 songs released one at a time, and within this meta-album, another smaller 13-track album: Oceania. Due to its more conventional format and release, Oceania will most likely be the more recognizable aspect of the massive Kaleidyscope venture, and while it isn’t completely to par with anything they’ve produced prior to the Machina trainwrecks, it does shed some hope of a reformatted direction for a band that many believed was long dead.

Beginning with the God-themed anthem “Quasar”, an album opener that portends a more psychedelic approach to hard rock, Oceania seems like nothing new from the overwrought percussion heavy loudness that was Zeitgeist. In fact, a passive once over may leave you feeling underwhelmed. But to do so would be dismissing this record far too quickly. Admittedly, they are no longer the Pumpkins once loved in the '90s, but that doesn’t preclude a potentially wonderful rebirth fuelled by their historic relevance. In addition to the striking absence of Chamberlin, Iha, and Wretzky, is the complete 180 Corgan has had in relation to spirituality, religion, and love. The lovelorn torture of self-indulgent adolescence has dissipated into something more fulfilling and fruitful. This new-found happiness, may alienate many, but Corgan’s approach and poeticism around such alternative rock taboos is intriguing to say the least. Take for instance the third track “The Celestials”. On it, Corgan sings: “On the day that you were born / They built an empire off a scream / I can’t explain / Endlessly they’ll set you free / Give you reason to believe / This empty place / I may seem unafraid / And I may seem unashamed / But I will be special k / Never let the summer catch you down / Never let your thoughts run free / Even when their numbers draw you out / Everything I want is free / ‘Til the end.” It’s optimistic, but not nauseatingly so. It’s pensive, but not brooding. In short, it’s impressive. It’s comes as especially impressive at a point when impressing was believed to be long past for Corgan and his newfound Pumpkins.

Three tracks into Oceania and it becomes harder and harder to believe that Corgan and Co. are all washed up. And when the moog begins to sound midway through “My Love Is Winter”, or when the synthesized opening to “One Diamond, One Heart” begins, you’ll most likely find yourself grooving along to an imitation band that is so incredibly reminiscent of that wondrous nostalgia you once lived for. There is something undeniably different here, but almost parallel different -- a spinoff that doesn’t hold the brilliance of an original, but is charismatic in its own right. A more grown-up manifestation of the adolescent self-obsessed gloomy beginnings. If your life has progressed since the '90s, you’ll find yourself mimicking the same sentiments Corgan does when he sings: “I’m always on your side” on “One Diamond, One Heart” or “Fairy tales and time in whales / Substitutes for sin / It takes some life to find the light within” on “The Chimera”.

Corgan has matured significantly, and Oceania is the result of a deep reflection on past self-obsession without undermining those valid emotions by succumbing to the patronizing self-help suggestions touted by mainstream and clichéd health professionals. “Pale Horse” (one of the album’s best tunes) is a calming and pensive retort against medication. This isn’t the only instance of tackling issues of maturation without betraying everything you used to be. Corgan manages to deftly balance the intricacies and contradictions that come with “coming-of-age” without surrendering to defeatism.

Although Oceania will be plagued with comparisons of past efforts -- a fair tactic given the Smashing Pumpkins relevance in the rock scene and unabashed public disbanding and rebanding -- Corgan is impressively pulling this “new” version of the Pumpkins into an interesting direction. Oceania is definitely not without its faults, but with repeated listens and an honest approach to the metrics and themes Corgan’s hitting, this rhizomed Pumpkins reboot will dispel your notions that the Pumpkins can’t exist without its other three founding members. Oceania is also proof that integrity and quality of artistic output can overcome any negative impression.

7

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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