Reviews

A Time of Great Fear and Violence: 'Ripper Street: Season 1'

The looming shadow of Jack the Ripper makes for a detective series with higher stakes and deeper mysteries.


Ripper Street: Season One (Blu-ray)

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Matthew MacFayden, Jerome Flynn, Adam Rothenburg, MyAnna Buring, Charlene McKenna, Amanda Hale, David Dawson, Clive Russell, David Wilmot
Network: BBC
Release date: 2013-03-18
Amazon

Set in the Whitechapel area of East London in 1899, the BBC’s Ripper Street uses place and time to set the tone for a detective series in which the threat of Jack the Ripper potentially hangs over every case. An intriguing premise, the series does a fine job of keeping the threat present, yet never used as a cheap ploy to bring in or trick the audience.

Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFayden) is the lead in the series. He is idealistic, ethical, and intent on achieving justice through the right means. Helping Reid is Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), hard fighting and seemingly brutish, but intensely loyal to Reid. Rounding out the trio is American Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg). Jackson is a former Army doctor and Pinkerton and his medical expertise is often the key to solving the cases in Ripper Street.

The crimes committed in East London are often particularly gruesome and violent. As Jack the Ripper looms large over the city, Chief Inspector Fred Abberline (Clive Russell) and newspaper reporter Fred Best (David Dawson) are both quick to accept him as the culprit. It is Reid’s dedication to seeing all the facts objectively, combined with Jackson’s medical knowledge, which ultimately decides who the murderer really is, despite interference from the two, though for very different reasons. Abberline is still haunted by his previous work on Jack the Ripper cases and Best is desperate to sell papers at whatever the cost.

By placing the shadow of Jack the Ripper over every murder, the series is able to convey just how overwhelming the fear of his return was, not only for the people of the area, but for the police as well. It is Reid’s level head and his single-minded focus on using evidence and objective reasoning to solve crimes that sets an example for both Drake and Jackson. Initially, it seems as if Drake, quiet and intense, and Jackson, gregarious and easygoing, couldn’t have less in common, but in fact, they both harbor pasts that continue to haunt them. Though they are quite different, they both have an overwhelming need to move as far away from the pain of their pasts as possible, using either silence or misdirection as a way to avoid dealing with it in the present.

The past also plays an important role in Reid’s life.The disappearance of his young daughter a year earlier has created a chasm in his marriage. While his wife, Emily (Amanda Hale), mourns her death and takes comfort in the church, Reid is not ready to believe his daughter is dead. His inability to understand his wife’s need to mourn, and his failure to communicate why he refuses to, leads to a distance they both have difficulty bridging and one that carries through to the dramatic end of the season.

As the series moves closer to the season’s finalé, more is revealed about the histories of all three, but it is perhaps Drake’s story that is most heartbreaking. The episode focusing on his past puts a great deal into context for the character and Flynn is wonderful throughout.Much of what drives Drake is his effort to be good. His time as a soldier has colored much of his perspective, yet he strives to move past the brutal violence of war. His attempts to court a local prostitute, Rose (Charlene McKenna), show Drake in an awkward, yet gentlemanly light, making for a complex character finding his way.

Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), a cold and calculating woman with a past linked to Jackson, runs the town brothel. Their intertwined and complicated past serves as part of the season's ongoing mystery. As Jackson lives at the brothel, both Susan and Rose are frequently integral to not only the cases being investigated, but also in their interactions with Reid, Drake, and Jackson. Rose’s naiveté is combined with a naked ambition to gain wealth and comfort, while Susan is decidedly more practical, albeit with a much harsher edge. Unsurprisingly, the brothel is the setting for much drama and misunderstanding, yet Ripper Street does well to keep both Rose and Susan as more fleshed characters than the clichés of their profession often allows.

Ripper Street is the kind of show that the BBC does so well. It is beautifully shot, well written, and well acted. The premise sets the series up as a time and place of great fear and violence, while leaving the door open to tackle Jack the Ripper more directly in the future. For now, his shadow makes for a detective series with higher stakes and deeper mysteries.

The DVD release contains a fair amount of bonus material. There are short blurbs on the characters, language, and the setting, as well as featurettes that offer a tour of Whitechapel, and profiles of Jack the Ripper.They are a nice addition to the set, but more in-depth interviews with cast and crew, along with commentaries, would offer better insight into the series.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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