Reviews

Mystery, Power-Hungry Men and Scandal: 'The Hour: Season 2'

The Hour stands as one of the best series of the year, as the second season was filled with drama, intrigue, and a terrific use of period and tone.


The Hour: Season Two (Blu-ray)

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Dominic West, Peter Capaldi, Anna Chancellor, Oona Chaplin, Hannah Tointon, Vincent Riotta, Lizzie Brochere
Network: BBC
Release date: 2013-01-08
Amazon

The second season of the BBC’s excellent period drama, The Hour continues its mix of intrigue amidst historical events and personal dramas. While the first season took some time to establish itself, the second season comes out strong and immediately involving, setting the tone for a terrific story arc.

Much of the first season revolved around the love triangle between Hector Madden (Dominic West), the handsome and charming newscaster; Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), The Hour’s very capable producer; and Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a brash investigative reporter. While Hector is a married man, he's also a womanizer with little regard for his marriage. Freddie’s long-standing love for Bel is established and known by all who work at The Hour, but it's Bel’s indecision that has great repercussions in the second season.

Freddie returns to The Hour after being away on extended travels, with a French wife, Camille (Lizzie Brochere). The Hour had been taken off the air and as he returns, Bel and Hector are struggling with how to bring back the show with a new Head of News at the helm, Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi). Brown has a history with Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor), the foreign desk reporter at The Hour, and their past also finds a way into the backstage drama.

Brown’s introduction to The Hour quickly establishes him as a serious and fair-minded head, despite the political maneuvering required in his position. He's a careful and measured man whose judgment is a good counterpoint for the often impulsive Freddie. The scenes that reveal the nature of his history with Lix are especially effective because they allow him the only opportunities to express emotion, and Capaldi is wonderful in playing both sides of the character.

In addition to the personal dramas, the second season of The Hour follows a story filled with mystery, power-hungry men, and scandal that carries through the six episodes of the season. Centered on the goings on at a nightclub, El Paradis, and its owner, Raphael Cilenti (Vincent Riotta), the story also affects Hector directly as his drinking and womanizing becomes more and more out of control, also taking place at El Paradis.

The women who work at El Paradis serve as both the victims and eventual downfall of the nightclub, with one showgirl in particular, Kiki (Hannah Tointon), playing a prominent role. As Hector’s indiscretions escalate, his marriage to Marnie (Oona Chaplin) begins to fall apart, and scandal hangs over their relationship. Marnie’s position is not only one in which she is afraid of her standing in society, as was made out to be her major motivation in the first season, but rather how her relationship with Hector is to be navigated going forward, both complex and indicative of the changing times.

Lazy comparisons were initially made between The Hour and Mad Men, but they only serve to create disappointment in the viewer. Apart from the similarity in time period – and a dedication to the details of that period – The Hour resembles a slow burn news or spy drama. The series thrives on the behind-the-scenes machinations at a news program plagued by the constraints of wartime friendships and censorship codes. Working simultaneously within and against the system, Freddie, Bel, and Hector (all in their own ways and to different degrees) strive to provide important news without interference from network or government. The difficulty required to do so is at the heart of conflict in the series, as its leads have to use subterfuge, as well out outright defiance, to get their work done.

The second season of The Hour builds upon the first season’s well drawn characters and well executed story arcs. The acting continues to bring further layers to the characters, as Whishaw, Garai, and West are uniformly wonderful. Whishaw in particular plays Freddie’s growing maturity perfectly, and Capaldi is an excellent addition to the cast.

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after the second season, despite improving upon an already terrific season. While The Hour may have had a somewhat limited appeal, especially as the first season did move at a slower pace, its continuing quality should have made for a show with a broader audience. Regardless, The Hour stands as one of the best series of the year, as the second season was filled with drama, intrigue, and a terrific use of period and tone.

The DVD release includes only one bonus feature, a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes, many of which aired during the commercial breaks on BBC America. They are a nice addition, but it would have been nicer to have some commentaries.

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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