Music

The Mission: The Brightest Light

The Brightest Light isn’t a perfect album from the Mission. That said, it is very good and has the potential to please established fans as well as the newly interested.


The Mission

The Brightest Light

Label: The End
US Release Date: 2013-09-17
UK Release Date: 2013-09-23
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The Mission had trouble from their very inception back in 1986. Originally consisting of members of the Sisters of Mercy, the band started out (appropriately enough) as the Sisterhood and even began touring under that name until the Sisters of Mercy’s frontman Andrew Eldrich released a single as “the Sisterhood” to intentionally thwart the band’s use of that name. Thus, while in the midst of the tour in support of fellow goth rockers the Cult, the band revealed their new name “the Mission” which was great until the following year, when they discovered that an American Rhythm & Blues band called the Mission already existed. Thus, they had to change their name again to “the Mission UK”.

With a band that had so much difficulty being born (or, at least, named) in the first place, it’s noteworthy that their twelfth studio album since 1986 has just hit shelves and brings a great amount of promise with it. However, the once-troubled band hasn’t left all troubles behind, but has exchanged them for other troubles over the years. This is evident from the opening lyrics to the album, “When you get to my age, the candles cost more than the cake. It’s not the white powder anymore that’s keeping me awake.” That first song, “Black Cat Bone” emerges from a dark, murky depth of ambient sounds and haunting music that evokes memories of mid-1980s Bauhaus before the guitars kick in and Wayne Hussey’s voice takes on a gruff lament about aging. However “Goth Rock” the first track proves to be musically, lyrically “Black Cat Bone” borrows a lot from Delta Blues music, talking about “going down to the crossroads” to “make a pact with the devil” to “be 21 again”. The song continues with varied voodoo imagery and mystical lyrics, but the point of the song (and its placement on their 2013 album) is never quite lost on the audience. Wayne Hussey is feeling his age.

That may be and to a great extent the Mission is playing the type of music that very few bands truly play anymore, but “Black Cat Bone’s” lyrics aside, the Mission doesn’t truly sound any worse for the wear on The Brightest Light, even if their musical influences are proudly worn on their sleeves here. The Mission (UK) is still delving into the murky sonic textures that they have shared with such bands as the aforementioned Sisters of Mercy and early Cult along with bands like the Damned and Bauhaus. Yet somehow The Brightest Light almost always manages to sound fresh and not at all the work of a nostalgic novelty act who never grew out of the 1980s.

Much of this is owed to the growling, yet capable voice of Hussey himself, who perfectly complements the multi-layered music found here. On “Black Cat Bone”, Mission starts with a low, building, ambient noise that sets up the lyrical lament, then screeches into a metallic and distorted guitar chord. By the end of the song, acoustic guitar and tambourine join the fray, adding a layer of Western music worthy of Hussey’s frequently worn cowboy hat. “Everything but the Squeal” continues the album in a more straightforward Goth Rock direction with Hussey’s biker bar voice spitting out words like “If you’ll be my bitch, then I will be your dog!” over music that sounds like a cross between his work on the Sisters of Mercy debut album First and Last and Always and the Cult’s Electric.

The third track “Sometimes the Brightest Light comes from the Darkest Place” where Hussey continues to play with depressing topics, while reconciling opposites in a way worthy of the song’s title. “Sometimes the truest kiss comes with a whore’s embrace”, “Sometimes the warmest smile comes from the saddest face” and “Sometimes the fastest thrill comes from the longest chase” all accompany the title in their own couplet chorus, as Hussey manages to sound both poetic and badass at the same time. While this third song (and semi-title track) may feel a little more Pop Rock than Goth Rock, it’s certainly unlike any other pop song you’re likely to hear on contemporary radio.

The same is true for the fast-paced “Drag”, which sounds like something from Disneyland After Dark’s debut album “No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims” (an obscure, if excellent, tribute in itself). “Drag” features grinding guitars and guitar solos under Hussey’s repetitive, yet diverse vocals. The combination occasionally stretches beyond the Mission’s most common genre and feels like something that could have been featured on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball or Hard 60.

“Born Under a Good Sign” is another song that feels remarkably familiar. While there is a bright, 1980s New Wave rock sound to the opening, the melody of the verses sounds so much like that of The Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By” that one could easily sing the Stones’ lyrics over the Mission’s music without much variation required. However, the song comes into its own in both the pre-chorus and the chorus, which follow the opening music closely. “The Girl in the Furskin Rug” begins with a classic Hussey/Sisters-style guitar riff and rolls into a slow-and-low ballad-like protest song whose cryptic lyrics could reflect current events or be somewhat out of nowhere. The chorus itself sounds as if it’s attempting to become the theme song for a nonexistent TV show of the same name and its jingly nature detracts from the more serious protest lyrics throughout the rest of the song. “When the Trap Clicks Shut Behind Us” is much more worthy of the label “Ballad” with its slow acoustic guitar, sorrowful lyrics and arpeggio-rich electric leads. Hussey and producer David M. Allen give us a very different take on the voice that has guided us through these songs. While still sounding tough and gruff, Hussey’s pained lament reaches an almost crooning crescendo that might have felt perfectly in place in the late 1980s era of hard rock ballads.

Continuing the pace of the previous songs is the next song “Ain’t No Prayer in the Bible Can Save Me Now”, a desolate introspection sung over a minimalist organ and acoustic guitar based track that brings back the early hints on this album of a Delta Blues influence. This is especially as the track gets going and the organ goes from gospel to funk without feeling truly out of place. However, the Mission’s influences become more obvious when Hussey mentions “When the Levee Breaks” and falls into the trappings of bluesy repetition, even as the gospel-like vocals support Hussey’s Goth-based voice. That said, this is an overall beautiful track that leaves the listener feeling the pain of the lyrics.

The equally joyfully titled “Just Another Pawn in your Game” kicks off with harmonica and settles into a near-country (or, at least Southern Rock) groove. The occasional lyrical bend clearly echoes Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae” with the influence becoming undeniable when the backing mandolin track comes into play. “Pawn” name checks David Bowie and Bugsy Siegel and builds into a cool rock song with piano, guitar and drums accompanying the harmonica and mandolin. However catchy the song may be, it’s hard to deny how familiar it feels and one may wonder why such an influence is on a Mission album.

“From the Oyster Comes the Pearl” sounds more like vintage Mission (with a few unlikely influences from their musical contemporaries of the day) and features a sweeping and beautiful guitar solo over its finale. The Brightest Light begins to wind down with the eleventh rack “Swan Song”. While the musical construction sounds a great deal like classic Mission, the lyrics feel a bit trite as we’re reminded that “It ain’t over till it’s over… till the fat lady sings.” Still, the song progresses beautifully with its mixed guitars and near epic mixing by Allen. The album ends with “Litany for the Faithful”, which bookends The Brightest Light as it echoes “Black Cat Bone’s” nostalgia for the past. Hussey sings of the many types of songs he has sang over the decades while minimalist guitar, bass and piano accompany his sorrowful vocals. “I can’t bring myself to sing of ever leaving you.” he sings to the subject of the song with a strange (and limited) lilt of hope in his voice. If any one song encapsulates what The Brightest Light has to offer, it is “Litany for the Faithful”, which lyrically captures the pensive introspection and nostalgia that permeates most of these tracks and adds layer after layer of instrumentation to keep the repetitive song from ever feeling stale. For this reason alone, “Litany” is a perfect and fitting end for the album.

What “Litany for the Faithful” does not echo from this album are the occasionally far-too-obvious musical influences and tributes that feel too familiar to keep The Brightest Light from always feeling fresh. Aside from these “I’ve heard this before” moments, the Mission does sound surprisingly modern, even as they play the sort of music that very few bands are currently making (and haven’t for a couple of decades). For the repetition, occasional triteness and borrowed elements, The Brightest Light isn’t a perfect album from the Mission. That said, it is very good and has the potential to please established fans as well as the newly interested. If nothing else, The Brightest Light is a fine argument for the case that “Goth Rock lives.”

6

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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