Music

Pelican: Forever Becoming

Forever Becoming is an apt title for the Chicago-based post-metal outfit Pelican, who despite significant name recognition and years of experience is still struggling to come to its own.


Pelican

Forever Becoming

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2013-10-15
UK Release Date: 2013-10-22
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Ataraxia/Taraxis, Pelican’s four-song 2012 EP, at the time provided a glimpse of foreshadowing that was absolutely necessary following the flatline mood of What We All Come to Need, the band’s last studio album. Along with incorporating acoustic elements that had been a long overlooked strong point within its style, the EP did what What We All Come to Need unsuccessfully tried to do: amp up the mood. As I wrote in my review of Ataraxia/Taraxis, the move to the Southern Lord label was one that made all the sense in the world when it was first announced. Pelican wowed the metal world in 2005 by hopping to the top of Decibel’s end-of-the-year list with its excellent The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, but even with solid follow-ups like City of Echoes, it was evident all along that the group’s already expansive style (see: Fire in Our Throats’ three ten-plus minute behemoths) could use some enhancement. Southern Lord, well known for delivering on all fronts with respects to sub-bass heaviness and guttural grind and d-beat, seemed like the ideal new channel for new exploration.

The first final product of this union, What We All Come to Need, is not, however, the jolt that many might have expected. Where it beefs up the sound it also flattens it; “The Creeper”, featuring Sunn 0)))’s Greg Anderson on guitar, has mighty riffage abound, but all of the other instruments around the guitars do little else than prop them up. “Post” bands of any kind face a difficulty that’s become one of the defining crises surrounding Pelican’s sound: Given that post-rock and post-metal’s roots are in pop-oriented verse/chorus song, how does an instrumental band play off those structures without vocals, which are an integral part of them? If a musician doesn’t do a good job in elevating an instrumental of this type through sophisticated arrangements, what usually ends up happening is the creation of a glorified backing track, where the music begs for vocals to be at the top of the mix. “The Creeper”, along with most of What We All Come to Need, is victim to this trap. Simultaneously intensified in mood and streamlined in structure, the album is only superficially heavy; in every other respect, it’s a step back from Fire in Our Throats and City of Echoes. Ataraxia/Taraxis quickly reverted this trend, offering up songs like the two halves of the title track, where mood and atmosphere are just as important as displaying a powerful riff.

Forever Becoming, Pelican’s newest studio offering since What We All Come to Need, unfortunately, does not stick to that trend—entirely. The best moments on the record capture what signing to Southern Lord indicated the band would do. The last minute of the mammoth album highlight “The Tundra” is the heaviest Pelican has ever sounded, and it’s absolutely crushing—in the greatest possible sense of the word—to hear. Most importantly, the heaviness doesn’t just come from the riff itself, which is quite satisfying, but from the group’s willingness to let dissonance and feedback into the mix. Each strum of the guitar feels like a gut-punch of icy winter wind—an apt way to live up to the track’s name. Opener “Terminal” juxtaposes guitar lines reminiscent of Isis with some stupendous drumming by Larry Herweg, and, appropriately, it’s the atmosphere that lingers in the mind by the time it’s done. Pelican may at times indulge in the prettier kinds of post-rock that draw indie kids and people who love Friday Night Lights, but few would deny Pelican’s “heavy” credentials.

The bulk of Forever Becoming, however, continually tries to reassert those credentials riff after riff without doing much in the mood department, in doing so falling to the same folly that What We All Come to Need is victim to. A great deal of these tracks, once they get into their groove, are content to get stuck in it, which is a big problem considering how the chord progressions they’re using don’t feel like something that should be in the front of the mix. They instead feel like backing for a missing vocal line. Far from “post-metal”, Forever Becoming is instead the sound of a band trying especially hard to push past the basic formulas of rock music itself without ever overcoming its fundamental aspects. The ear of the modern “average person on the street” is, for better or worse, attuned to the rhythms and structures of pop music. This is of course not to say that all bands must obey the dictates of that style, but it is to say that one can’t, so to speak, play the game and expect to skirt past the rules. Pelican is, if this album is any indication, a pre-post-metal outfit, one that’s continually pushing itself only to find it’s still a few steps behind. At this point in time, Pelican really is Forever Becoming.

5

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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