Music

Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons to Die

Teaming with producer Adrian Younge for a high-concept album about possessed vinyl records and mafioso dealings, Ghostface and his band attempt to bring us back to the Cuban Linx... era.


Ghostface Killah

Twelve Reasons to Die

Label: Soul Temple
US Release Date: 2013-04-16
UK Release Date: 1013-04-16
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In the six years since Ghostface's last critical smash, Fishscale, Dennis Coles has spent most of that time as an ambassador for straight up, no-nonsense gutter rap. Aside from the Ghostdini record, an R&B-infused pop album that will likely remain the most divisive moment of his career, projects like Apollo Kids, Wu-Block and Wu-Massacre have all invited an atmosphere of returning to the basics of hard drums and harder rhymes. It's been a good period for heavy Ghostface Killah heads, but anyone looking for that little extra hook like a "Be Easy" or "Tush" weren't going to get it.

Twelve Reasons to Die may not have a big single either, but with everything swirling around its concept this album is certainly the first Ghostface album in a while that's demanding all eyes. A six-issue comic series; Adrian Younge's production imagined as lifted from an imaginary spaghetti western (specifically from Italy in 1968); the rare Brown Tape remix album by Apollo Brown; and RZA executive producing are just a few of the bullet points.

It's a concept album, then, and quite an interesting concept too. These 12 tracks act as rogue vinyls releasing the spirit of a deceased Tony Stark and Friends, revived as the Ghostface Killah and a swarm of Killah Beez, to murder the DeLucas crime family. This story can't help but also feel like a fable-like retelling of the Ironman origin story, especially with Adrian Younge's heavily Wu-Tang-influenced production. Organ taps on "An Unexpected Call" will bring to mind Enter the Wu-Tang's "Tearz" while the swirling strings throughout the album remind of RZA's slightly more subdued spaghetti on Ironman's "Assassination Day" and "Marvel".

A sample of Ol' Dirty Bastard's immortal introduction of Ghostface ("Da Mystery of Chessboxin'") on "The Rise of the Ghostface Killah" is almost too perfect as the ghostly warning that the DeLuca family is about to die at Phantom Tony Starks' hands. As if that moment existed only to be repurposed in this way. Suddenly one remembers Enter the Wu-Tang will be 20 years old in just a few months.

The feel of Twelve Reasons to Die is so immaculately 1993-96 - with all the big budget touch-ups playing through a band rather than what MPCs can offer - that it's a little disappointing the depth behind the shiny stuff isn't always there. Having not seen the comics it's hard to say if this is definitively the case, but Twelve Reasons to Die appears to suffer from some of the same problems as other multimedia projects like the Mass Effect video game series.

Most of the verses on this album, particularly during the three-song stretch in the middle of the album that leads to Stark's demise and Ghost's rise ("The Center of Attraction", "Enemies All Around Me" and "An Unexpected Call"), feel like sketches of events the listener is expected to have knowledge of. His succubus goes unnamed for almost the entire album, and then suddenly Inspectah Deck reveals her name is Logan. Ghost waffles between complete trust and distrust over this girl so robotically and confusingly the plot threatens to skip the rail. One can't help but feel like some art and dialogue bubbles would go a long way to adding some actual drama to her betrayal.

Still, it's hard to get past the sound of this thing. There's nothing quite like a nearly incomprehensible Cappadonna verse, or hearing Ghost go in over the roaring guitars and bell tolls of "The Sure Shot". "Murder Spree" is Ghost, U-God, INS, Masta Killa and Killa Sin going totally mid-'90s horrorcore on us; it's mean and covered in film grain, blood - quite possibly the most blatantly violent Ghost song ever. The atmosphere of Twelve Reasons to Die is so enveloping that it could take quite a while before listeners attempt to poke holes in the rap portion of the album, and even afterwards one can easily lose an entire afternoon to it being left on loop indefinitely.

At a swift 39 minutes, the pure harmony of this music with the honed voices of Ghostface, Rebel INS and the other Wu-dudes is just unavoidably addictive. Without access to everything else that completes the cipher on this one, again, it feels like there are some holes where Stark avoided entering that "Shakey Dog" mode of storytelling in favor of more synopsis-like soliloquy. Cool continually overrides, though; every time I think my complaints are valid enough to stop listening, "Revenge Is Sweet" or "Rise of the Black Suits" or "Blood on the Cobblestones" will grab me and refuse to let go.

As a total project, Twelve Reasons to Die may be just about the most Wu-Tang thing that's ever happened, despite the nagging suspicion that Adrian Younge is playing finders keepers with the spotlight. That sentence might say more than any of the other 800 words on this page.

7

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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