Reviews

The League: The Complete Season Three Reaches Absurd New Heights

The cast of The League takes their improvisational skills to new heights in the show's third season, by far the best yet.


The League: The Complete Season Three

Distributor: Fox Connect
Cast: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Katie Aselton, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie
Network: FX
Release date: 2012-10-09
Amazon

After gathering everybody together in a makeshift Sukkah designed for Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival, Taco (Jon Lajoie) tells everyone that after Sukkot has finished he will commence "Tacote". He tells them, "Tacote is an ideal plane of existence where the Twelve Tribes of Israel come together with people who are high on mushrooms and groove to Aphex Twin."

What's striking about that nonsensical image, aside from the fact that it probably exists in some iteration in a music review somewhere, is how well it summarizes what makes The League so brilliant. When it debuted in 2009, it was marketed by FX as "a comedy about fantasy football", which meant that the only people likely to tune in were those who play the notoriously addictive online game. (Count me guilty as charged.) However, it wasn't long into the first season that any notions of this as a "bro" comedy were significantly off. Yes, there's plenty of sexist and homophobic humor to play on the football fan stereotype, but The League isn't really about boys being boys. At its best, the program goes for all-out absurdity, whether it's Taco getting high with a gun turned into a bong while wearing a children's TV character costume or Andre (Paul Scheer) growing breasts after eating too much soy.

Given the semi-improvisational nature of the show, these moments are not difficult to come by. Every episode tends to gravitate toward the insane, and with the skill set of the actors it's almost always funny. This is especially the case with The League: The Complete Season Three, by far and away the best season thus far. Completely unwilling to let logic guide these episodes, the showrunners and actors let their creativity get the best of them, and the results are drop-dead hilarious. The League's affinity for the over-the-top solidifies the identity that's been forming since the end of Season One: it's not a show about fantasy football, it's a show that reflects how the crazed competition that drives fantasy football defines the lives of a group of serious misanthropes. The players of The League, although they are not superspies or sardonic single dads, fit in quite well amongst the FX comedy lineup.

Whereas past seasons have mostly riffed on unrelated events, however, Season Three commits to an overarching storyline. In the first episode, "The Lockout", by far the most insane adventure of this series, the group leaves behind Ruxin (Nick Kroll, always given the best one-liners) while picking the draft order, and with the benefit of his absence they cheat him out of the first pick. Ruxin, a self-proclaimed terrible person, sees through the deception right away and calls the group out on it. Unsurprisingly, they all keep up the lie, and they're actually successful...

...that is, until the deranged finalé, "The Funeral". After suffering a stroke brought about by anger upon discovering the lie, Ruxin decides to nullify the entire fantasy season. In the most unconventional of Viking funerals, the league is destroyed. Even though the majority of this season was as free-form as anything the program has done before, it's nice to see these thirteen episodes tied together with something of a story arc, however thin it may be.

There are so many elements of The League that make it the strongest of the FX comedies: talented improvisers, zinger-filled dialogue, and a set of characters that naturally lend themselves to sharp humor. There's also a wealth of guest stars, all of whom naturally fit in this already well-established cast: Sarah Silverman, Jeff Goldblum, Will Forte, and Seth Rogen all have single-episode spots that are each memorable in their own right.

Also, much like The Simpsons and Scrubs, it always manages to score dynamite secondary players. The League has Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), its most demented creation. Rafi is the “El Cunado” (brother-in-law) of Ruxin, and any situation he is involved in invariably results in something terrible happening. His philosophy is succinctly depicted in his preference for using knives instead of discussion to settle lineup disputes: “Words are bullshit. They’re just useless sounds we make with our stupid mouths!”

Rafi can thus be said to live by a maxim David Mamet penned so eloquently in his play American Buffalo: "Action talks, and bullshit walks." The choices he makes are rarely the right ones, nor are they ever sensical, but they're all about action. In that way, he's truly the defining character of The League, even though he isn't one of the regular cast members. Taco may get the majority of the laughs (which he gets a lot of this season), but it's Rafi's constant boundary-pushing that summarizes what it is that makes Season Three so great. When a simple premise like Thanksgiving dinner can result in Andre accidentally eating Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and Jenny's (Katie Aselton) daughter's class guinea pig, you know this is a program unlike anything out there.

It is quite a lot like the Twelve Tribes of Israel jamming to Aphex Twin with a bunch of high people, and it's a great thing. The fact that The League opts for that instead of the lazy, beers-and-bitches humor one would expect from a show "about" fantasy football speaks volumes about its creativity and edge.

The bonus features included on the Season 3 DVD, while not plentiful, are still worth viewing, especially for die-hard fans. Two minor but mildly entertaining featurettes are included. The bloopers and deleted scenes provide further evidence for the improvisational skill of the actors; a lot of the time, it's a wonder these scenes got cut. Fortunately, the majority of the episodes on this two-disc set are extended ones, which add extra scenes and remove any bleeping, which is always fun.

8

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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