Reviews

King's X: 28 February 2014 - Ramona, CA

King’s X appears destined to remain an under-the-radar secret for their loyal fans, but no one’s complaining about still getting to see the band up close and personal.

King's X
City: Ramona, CA
Venue: Ramona Mainstage
Date: 2014-02-28

Seeing one of the most powerful bands on the planet usually requires visiting a major venue in a large city. But every now and then, you can catch such a band in an out of the way place at a small club on an under the radar tour. Such was the case on the last day of February when King’s X graced the Ramona Mainstage in a remote northeastern part of San Diego County.

The Texas power trio has been rocking the planet since their first album dropped in 1988, while 1989's sophomore release Gretchen Goes to Nebraska still ranks as one of the most underappreciated classics in hard rock history. Few albums from the era still resonate with such a timeless sound here in the 21st century, a testament to the band's uniquely progressive style.

It seemed that bassist Doug Pinnick, guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill were on a runaway train to the big time, beloved by a who's who of musician peers in the hard rock community for their blend of prog-rock power, melodic hooks, virtuosos chops, mind-bending psychedelia and majestic three-part harmonies. Sales increased with 1990's Faith Hope Love, with lead single "It's Love" garnering airplay on both radio and MTV. King’s X opened for Living Colour when that band was at the peak of their multi-platinum popularity, with guitarist Vernon Reid declaring King's X would soon be the biggest band in the world.

The trio's incendiary live shows created a die-hard core fan base, with their musical power and Pinnick's cathartic vocals capable of making fans feel like they'd had a borderline religious experience. Such is the power of great rock 'n' roll. Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore even offered that band's open vocal slot to Pinnick at one point, but Pinnick turned him down saying he had his own thing going. The music business isn't always fair though and not all who would seem destined for rock's high priesthood are able to break through to the mainstream success they might seem to deserve.

That breakthrough never came for King's X. But the trio kept on rocking through the years, with 15 albums and a slew of memorable tours. The band faced their greatest crisis in 2012, when Gaskill suffered a heart attack that nearly killed him. But the music gods weren't ready to call the drummer up to the pearly gates yet and King's X continues to rock on.

The Ramona Mainstage has been hosting a series of hard rock heroes from the late '80s and early '90s, so King's X fit the bill. San Diego also has a shortage of suitable rock venues in the greater metro area, so it's no surprise that neighboring towns are trying to fill the void. The former movie theater has great sound for the most part, although there are a few annoying dead spots. This could probably be remedied if management would take out some of the tables to enlarge the tiny dance floor, but the venue seems to be a work in progress.

A "Groove Machine" opener set an early tone, because that's what this band is. Pinnick owns one of the richest bass tones in rock history, and the low-end punch from his semi-hollow bass resonated deeply here. The mesmerizing bass power continued on the syncopated dirge of "Pillow", a deep cut from 1994's Dogman LP. The band then cranked it up into full rock power mode for "The World Around Me", the soaring opener from 1992's eponymous fourth album.

"Jerry Gaskill on the drums, the man who came back to life… the man who died and came back...", Pinnick said by way of introducing his dynamic drummer early on. Gaskill seemed no worse for wear and tear, whether it was laying down the heavy beat of "Dogman" or delivering a lighter touch on the majestic psychedelia of "Pleiades". The latter classic from the Gretchen LP featured Tabor on vocals and lead guitar, conjuring a mystical vibe that has informed the band's sound since the beginning.

The bulk of the repertoire comes from the first six albums, a body of work that few bands from the era can match. But Pinnick pulled a 21st century ace when he riffed on the funky intro to "Vegetable" from 2001's Manic Moonlight. The extended intro led to one of the night's best jams, with Tabor tearing up a melty solo over the deep groove. "Go Tell Somebody" from 2008’s XV was another hard-rocking highlight, with Pinnick singing out for fans to spread the word on this rock gospel.

The stage seemed like it might ignite during "Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something", with the band reaching back to Gretchen again for a tightly arranged jam that had the crowd rocking out. Pinnick and Gaskill locked in on a superb groove, while Tabor burned up the fretboard. Tabor stole the show on "A Box", a heartfelt tune from 1996's Ear Candy where his melty solo on the ambient outro recalled vintage Jimi Hendrix.

The epic "We Were Born to Be Loved" from 1990's Faith Hope Love closed the set in climactic fashion. The trio was at the peak of their powers on a tune highlighting all their multi-dimensional skills - tight riffs, an electrifying groove, soaring harmonies and an intense jam that Gaskill keeps restarting every time you think it's going to end. Pinnick alluded to the church of rock during the encore's "Over My Head", a spirited fan-favorite for 25 years. The crowd clapped and sang along on the chorus with a gospel-like fervor, pastor Doug Pinnick presiding. The band threw on one more topper with "Mission", pulling another deep cut off the shelf after Pinnick said it hadn't been played in 15 years.

King's X appears destined to remain an under-the-radar secret for their loyal fans, but no one's complaining about still getting to see the band up close and personal. They band is even eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now. Their record sales won't get them in, but ask any musician from the band's era and they'll likely testify to the worthiness of King's X.

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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