Music

Diplo and His "Hero"es

The man who sampled the Clash's "Straight to Hell" for M.I.A. teams up with his heroes and Frank Ocean to bring summer to your speakers a few months early.

Now here's a pleasant surprise. A few days ago the Converse sneaker company unveiled a collaboration between producer Diplo, R&B it-boy Frank Ocean, and Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon as the latest offering in its "Three Artists, One Song" single series. There have been eight previous installments in the series -- all of which I have admittedly glossed over -- but something primal about seeing those names in the marquee made me want to immediately investigate the results.

So is "Hero" a genuine gem, or a throwaway collab more noteworthy for the names plastered upon it? I'm wary of making any brash judgements after only a handful of listens, but it is worth noting that this under-three-minute Diplo/Ocean/ex-Clash joint is growing on me fast. Honestly, a mere few seconds in and its lazy beachfront vibe already had its hooks sunk deep into me. "Hero" sounds like it couldn't wait for summer to come around and instead forced its way into the world a few months early so it could bask in the seasonal feeling. Perhaps "forced" is too strong a word -- the shimmering "Hero" radiates easygoing contentment, and it entices rather than grabs out. Frank Ocean's vocals, mellifluous and tastefully reserved, fit the mood like a glove; even though he was the one who selected the final backing track to sing over, I can't help but feel this song was just waiting for him to come along to make it whole.

The unstated implication about "Hero" is that it's some sort of Clash reunion -- after all, the series title describes the union of three artists is integral to the whole enterprise, and logic dictates that the roster for this track only fits the stated requirements if Jones and Simonon are counted as one Rock Hall of Fame-enshrined unit. Certainly, the song's dubby bassline instantly identifies itself as the work of the man who held down the low-end in the Only Band That Matters (and certainly, Simonon's distinctive rhythm section work is one of the main parties responsible for the surges of excitement that course through my body every time I replay the cut). But erroneously saddling "Hero" with some Clash-redux baggage is a disservice to the contributions all four collaborators individually brought to the project. As the prime instigator behind this particular meeting of minds, Diplo's imprint is all over "Hero", and Frank Ocean's voice is as integral to the track as Simonon's bass and Jones' heavily processed guitarwork (perhaps moreso).

No, take "Hero" on its own terms, for those terms are compelling on their own. It's only March, but I think I might have my "song of the summer" squared away even before the winter is through.

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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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


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Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

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Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

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7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

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