Music

Maroon 5: Overexposed

Alternately fascinating and frustrating, Overexposed shows the band truly excited for their big pop closeup, trying tons of new things and failing spectacularly about half the time. Worth a listen, but a classic this is not.


Maroon 5

Overexposed

Label: Octone
US Release Date: 2012-06-26
UK Release Date: 2012-06-25
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It's truly amazing to think that there was a time when Maroon 5 were not considered pop enough.

However, that's exactly what happened in 2002 when the young, Adam Levine-fronted band known as Maroon 5 turned in their first post-Kara's Flowers album, Songs About Jane, to their label, who insisted that they didn't hear a single in the batch. Upset and angered, the group turned in "Harder to Breathe", the hardest-rocking song the band has ever done (to date), and lo' and behold, it was not only their first single, but also their first Top 40 hit. Once they were in the pop consciousness, they pretty much never left, as what followed was a non-stop series of charming yet inoffensive pop staples: "This Love", "She Will Be Loved", the surprisingly soulful "Sunday Morning", etc. Despite all the frustrations the group felt from the start, success was proving to be remarkably easy.

In fact, it was almost too easy. The band released two more albums -- the long-delayed (and horridly-titled) 2007 effort It Won't Be Soon Before Long and the limp 2010 disc Hands All Over -- but it was obvious that despite scoring their first chart-topper with "Makes Me Wonder", there was something missing with the group. Their easy everyman charm got lost in sleek pop productions, and despite the Rihanna collaborations and somehow thinking they had enough "undiscovered classics" to make an album of B-sides in 2007 (and a remix album the year after), Maroon 5 were beginning to lose their way, which the band blatantly acknowledged in interviews about the lack of sales for Hands All Over (that album's second single, "Give a Little More", toppped out at a downright embarrassing No. 86 on Billboard).

Then, came freedom. Gauzy, disposable, Christina Aguilera-assisted freedom. And because of that freedom, we get the wild curiosity that is Overexposed: as fascinatingly flawed a pop album as any group has made in recent memory.

We all remember what inspired that freedom: "Moves Like Jagger". The song got overplayed like hell, but damn if it wasn't expertly crafted, that whistled hook burrowing in your brain for hours on end. It was launched on The Voice, the show which turned Levine from Handsome Frontman to Actual Celebrity (and even though Aguilera guested on the track, the song succeeded in spite of her, not because of her). The song was absolutely shameless with its Top 40 intentions, but fun and loose in a way that was nowhere to be seen on their last two albums. Inspired, the group entered the studio with every studio wunderkid they could find (Shellback, Benny Blanco, Max Martin), intent on not making a casual pop album as they did before, but instead crafting the most colorful, maximalist take on pop music they could possibly fine. Maroon 5, 2.0 (which makes them either 7 or 10, depending).

This technicolor experiment starts with a curveball in the form of the casual reggae slide-along "One More Night", a breezy track wherein the chorus and the verse are largely indistinguishable from each other, the song existing on a permanent plateau, the drums dropping out during the pre-chorus serving as the only melodic deviation in the entire track, and even then, it's not much to go off of, making for a remarkably uninteresting start. The lead single, "Payphone", exhibits the group's strengths far better. "Yeah I know it's hard to remember / The people we used to be," Levine intones, and as he continues, there's an obvious resonance in his voice, light-years removed from, say, "Misery". In truth, the lyrics to "Payphone" come off as more thoughtful and considered than they have for the group in some time, and once that expletive-filled chorus hits, you really can hear a certain boldness in Levine's voice that wasn't anywhere to be found on Hands All Over. It's odd to describe his voice as being bold given how reedy he often sounds, but it doesn't take long to figure out why Levine is offering us such commanding performances: this time around, he's absolutely brimming with confidence.

As the album goes on, certain, expected tropes are trotted out for the band to show off their newfound melodic prowess: "Daylight" is your big anthem that actually could've been a lot bigger had they not relied entirely on a thin drum palette during the chorus. "Love Somebody" is their sky-scraping Coldplay moment, and the astonishingly bold electronic number "Fortune Teller" explicitly caters to the dance crowd, albeit with heavier synths than anyone would've ever expected from the band (shame the whole thing is torpedoed by a chorus that is simply too light for the sonic foundation they lay out, Peter Hook basslines and all). There are some moments that come off as coldly calculated (the piano-and-voice ballad "Sad" does not play well with Levine's voice, as his vocals are just too showy to make the chorus of "I'm so sad" sound anywhere near genuine), and other bits that cop some unusual sources ("Lucky Strike" is basically a danceable carbon copy of Peter Bjorn & John's "Second Chance", imitating the latter song right down to the guitar tone -- it'd be a hell of an homage had it actually done something with it instead of merely replicating the original with more dance beats). No, these are not great songs, but these prove to be fascinating failures, showing the band eager to stretch out and try new things even if such experiments don't entirely pan out in the long run.

Leave it up to the band to still surprise with a few stunners, as the late-in-the-game track "Tickets", which -- disjointed as it is melodically -- still serves as one of the most fascinating psychodramas the group has ever played out. "She's got tickets to her own show," goes the chorus, "but nobody wants to go," and with that fiery jumping-off point, the band just unleashes one venomous line after another ("You say you got a job / But I don't know what you do") before turning the struggle inward ("Stop messin' with my mind / 'cause you'll never have my heart / But your perfect little body ma-ma-makes me fall apart"). Although it's endlessly fun to speculate on who the band is talking about (as tends to happen with most any celebrity-baiting song of this nature), the bratty, sassy vibe of the track shows us an aggressive edge to the group that we haven't seen since, well, "Harder to Breathe".

So while Overexposed features a whole variety of colorful styles, there's only real select moments we get wherein the group actually manages to pull out something memorable and meaningful. The album's deluxe edition then shows us what could've been: the group sampling Little Richard in a relatively creative fashion, a loose, bluesy cover of Prince's "Kiss" -- it's here that we see the band truly unleashed, having a lot of fun instead of forcing it on tracks like the rather forgettable "Doin' Dirt". No, Overexposed is not a great album, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting. What we're hearing is the band actually learning to have fun again, and with any luck, they'll only get better from here.

5

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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