Music

Amy Speace: How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat

With her latest effort, Amy Speace steps further away from electricity, focusing more on her storytelling prowess. The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, is beyond successful.


Amy Speace

How to Sleep in a Story Boat

Label: Wind Bone
US Release Date: 2013-04-16
UK Release Date: 2013-04-16
Amazon
iTunes

First, the obvious. Amy Speace used to be an actor. William Shakespeare used to be a playwright. The former once toured with a national company that focused on performing plays written by only the latter. Now, a little more than a decade after deciding to turn her artistic focus toward music, the one-time theater actress has released an album loosely based around the world's most celebrated playwright's words.

Got that? Good.

Now, to the not so obvious. The maturation between Amy Speace's 2010 12-song Lilith Fair-ready set, Land Like a Bird, and 2013's most recent country/folk-influenced How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat might very well be the single greatest leap an indie artist takes this year between what once was and what now is. The differences between the two incarnations are subtle -- yes, that Judy Collins-esque voice is still fully intact, and yes, the songwriter can still lay on the poignancy with her vivid storytelling and emotive tones -- but just because those tiny changes might be hard to find doesn't mean they aren't there. Indeed, this 11-song collection is a reintroduction of the most promising kind.

Speace strips down here, relying much less on a band than she did three years ago when Bird allowed electricity to bolt through such songs as "Half Asleep & Wide Awake" and "Change For Me". This time around, the singer opts for little more than her acoustic guitar and tasteful accessories that often seem like visitors rather than residents. The title track, for instance, installs orchestral strings, live drums and pretty backing harmonies, yet none of the additional sounds overwhelm Speace's star as each element seems more than happy to merely gaze at the light she exudes. The same could not be said beforehand, when a track such as "Drive All Night" on her last record aimed more for atmosphere than it did singularity. Here, the singer not only seems comfortable positioning herself at center stage -- she revels in it.

"In Salida", "Perfume", and "Bring Me Back My Heart" almost entirely leave everyone else behind as a solo Speace brings a blend of confidence and inspiration that she had previously been unable to convey. The most memorable of the three happens to be "Salida", if for no other reason than how she expresses the tiniest bit of anger through her vocal performance. It begins with about a minute and a half left as she sings "The knot that's always in my throat/A country on the verge of an overthrow" as part of a rambling, rambunctious refrain that refuses to be ignored. It's a small departure from her middle-of-the-road public radio pop, and it also allows some very real emotion to bleed through the speakers, a call to arms for the revolution she's convinced will come.

None of this means that help from her band doesn't add a little more to the equation. Opener "The Fortunate Ones" is aided by an explosion of sound during its latter half that utilizes a waltz feel to the fullest degree. Maybe more notable is the neat contradiction it offers between music and words. "We're the raging pretenders/The five-time offenders/Hurting nobody more than ourselves," she intones, creating a very succinct ugliness that is nothing less than beautiful. "Hunter Moon" is covered in mud, a new turn for the singer that takes her close to the Land of Tom Waits (with a much more angelic voice, of course). Fortunately, the switch in direction is successful as the upbeat groove and addictive hook will stay with listeners long beyond a first listen.

Equally as memorable is "The Sea & The Shore", a John Fullbright collaboration that allows the songwriter to show off her storytelling chops. Backed by little more than acoustic guitar picking, the track is a clever metaphor for lost lovers that inches toward the line of pretension without ever crossing over it. Making it worthwhile are the two voices telling the story, each fitting like a glove over the hand that is its counterpart. The result is dazzlingly gorgeous and strikingly sad, a recipe difficult to blend without the correct ingredients. Here, Speace and Fullbright combine for a five-star meal.

Actually, speaking of food, appetite is the one thing that separates How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat from the rest of Amy Speace's catalog. Why? Because this record is filled with it. More than 10 years into a career as a singer/songwriter, Speace somewhat miraculously still sounds hungry, and as these 11 songs prove, starvation seems to be nowhere in sight. That, as one may imagine, isn't just a good thing -- it's an imperative thing, and if nothing else, it ensures a future of promise and potential that should have every opportunity to be explored, every opportunity to succeed.

How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat isn't a coming out party, of course, because Amy Speace has been here for years. What it is, however, is a gala honoring the courage to move forward, a celebration of persistence, patience and practice. If this is only one in a long line of steps toward a fruitful career as a working musician, it's a pretty big one. More importantly, it's also a pretty essential one.

Besides, as Speace has now proven she knows oh, so well, it's always a bit harder to get to sleep with an empty stomach keeping you awake, anyway. No matter it be on water. No matter it be on land.

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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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