Music

Brian Eno: LUX

Pause for a moment and appreciate Brian Eno's latest solo record. You have to experience it as though you were lying down watching clouds pass overhead.


Brian Eno

LUX

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2012-11-13
UK Release Date: 2012-11-12
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Brian Eno has been a busy guy as of late. He recently unveiled his most recent (note: not his only) iPad app called Scape, created a building-sized light and sound show in Rio De Jeneiro called "77 Million Paintings" and within the same year he managed to produce a 75-minute, 12-part, four-movement ambient composition called Lux. Oh and Lux actually began its life as a sound art installation for the Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria in Turin, Italy. All this and in spite of how thin he might appear to be spread, this pillar of the ambient music community is at the top of his game.

The original press release and the promo material are sparse on the details of the original art installation which inspired the work, but it did turn out to be very relevant. According to the exhibit information, "The sound installation created by Brian Eno explores the possible aesthetics offered by new technology in relation to the ambient, with a series of musical movements which stratify into each other." I believe that you may need a degree from a prestigious art school to parse (or tolerate) the structure of the first part of that sentence. The last part, however, if taken by itself, turns out to be very indicative of the sound structure of Lux.

Like any good sound engineer, Eno worked with the physical building and speaker placement to create a composition that was unique to and optimum for the Great Gallery itself. When you walk through a gallery you take your time exploring, immersing yourself and hopefully, appreciating. The sound involved takes on form and a presence around you if only loaned by the structure of the walls and the way it reverberates. This record needs to be approached the same way -- there are no songs. Like any good artist pushing the boundaries of his medium, Eno does away with the easily digestible progression through brief poems of sounds and opts instead for four movements, barely distinguishable to the impatient ear, but demanding to be taken seriously. You have to experience it as though you were lying down watching clouds pass overhead. Though the slow movement understates it, they promise to rain down, fracture the light or block out the sun as they mix and roll over each other so slow as to be almost imperceptible. LUX progresses in exactly the same manner. Even the word progresses seems inappropriate. It would be more accurate to say it hangs there, shifting and morphing in on itself without repetition but all the while managing to stay familiar. Brian Eno is an experienced and mature producer at this stage of his career and that is evident in every note of this record. Though the instruments are few, the placement of their sounds seems very deliberate.

"LUX 1", begins with sparse piano notes barely teasing at a melody which never arises. The distance between notes seems placed just far enough for them to reach out to one another but dissolve over light strings and pads without quite making contact. "Lux" is the Latin word for "light" and the first movement is just that -- an easy entry point which serves to place you mentally where you need to be for the next three pieces. Grab a cup of something warm and comforting and relax.

There’s a brief silence between "LUX 1" and "LUX 2", but given the pacing of the record you could quite easily overlook it and pass through without noticing. What does become apparent quite quickly, however, is the gradual change in mood. Where the first movement was a generally hopeful and light-hearted sound, the second one introduces more plucked or finger-picked strings. There’s a certain friction applied to some of the same instruments here that wasn’t present in the first movement and it casts the ambiance in a slightly dimmer light.

"LUX 3" does something which really had an impact on me. Speaking of the record as a single listening experience of 75 minutes, at the 45:30 mark the track begins to soar to a crescendo and then fade out just like a traditional single "song" might. It seems for a moment to fall into the sort of pattern we’re used to which is surprising given that you’re only midway through the third movement. When things slowly begin to fade to silence and just as it appears to be over sounds already at full volume overlap and come in again as though it were all beginning again. The same thing happens again at around 50:30 close to the end of the movement and the attention to detail on the mix in both parts can’t be understated. This "should I stay or should I go" sound mechanism made for some of the most interesting and memorable bits of the movement.

"LUX 4" surprises us with a return to the same easy feeling that introduced the record but with the subtle difference that the notes are interlaced, following a discernible path before finally, and with an even slower grace then before the entire record fades with an unusually but comfortably long ramp down to silence.

This is not dinner music, mood music or even music for a rainy day. You could argue that ambient music as a genre is best left to art exhibits and public spaces to be appreciated in moments of presence. In fact, I share the distinction of having previewed it early with a very limited audience -- the patrons and staff of Japan’s Haneda airport -- some of whom may have missed their flights while listening to it. The record is featured there at the entrance to the airport, the bar and several listening stations throughout. This may seem an odd venue for the debut of a new ambient record but consider the metaphor the airport offers. You're passing through a structure and in spite of that structure being almost perfectly still, it succeeds in really moving you.

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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