Music

The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams

While the Hold Steady's catalog has consisted of detailed character sketches and scenarios extolling the virtues of indulging the devil whispering in your ear, Teeth Dreams deals with the demons left in the wake.


The Hold Steady

Teeth Dreams

Label: Washington Square
US Release Date: 2014-03-25
UK Release Date: 2014-03-24
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If you've ever had that dream where your teeth fall out or crumble apart, you can recall that tossing-and-turning feeling of helplessness and existential dread that you can't escape from while you're asleep. For the Hold Steady, though, its Teeth Dreams are about being trapped in reality, what happens after coming down from a high and facing up to the latent fears and nagging disappointments that all the self-medicating could fend off for only so long. This time out, there's not so much about booze and drugs, and nothing about hoodrats, with the key terms on Teeth Dreams being frustration and anxiety -- "waking up with that American sadness", as Craig Finn puts it strikingly. Finding the hardest partying indie act ever riddled by angst and worry over bad judgment and worse decisions, Teeth Dreams is the album where the Hold Steady is settling up the tab for the good times either because the effects of all the intoxicants have worn off or Finn and company have outlived that scene. Few bands lived for the night like the Hold Steady in its prime did, but now they seem more scared of the dark than the harsh light of the day -- in Finn's words, "Yeah, there are nights I get terrified."

So while the Hold Steady's catalog has consisted of detailed character sketches and vivid scenarios extolling the virtues of indulging the devil whispering in your ear, Teeth Dreams deals more with the demons left in the wake. You can almost imagine Finn's flawed protagonists on Teeth Dreams occupying different circles of a living purgatory, whether it's experiencing an instant of blanching panic when a sketchy past and a bright future collide uncomfortably on the opener "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" or the big-picture, long-haul perspective that you're an insignificant cog in the larger scheme of things on "On with the Business". Many of the lives explored in Teeth Dreams are stuck in a state of limbo where they're not sure if their time has come and gone, with characters fretting over their closing window of opportunity on "Spinners" and "Wait a While" or figuring out if they're down on their luck for now or for good throughout.

And yet, Teeth Dreams hardly feels burdensome or like a bummer. Boasting a guitar-driven rock approach anchored by Tad Kubler and new second guitarist Steve Selvidge that beefs up the more playful, carnivalesque sound of before, the Hold Steady manages to handle the new effort's heavier themes and more nuanced vignettes with the same bluster and energy it took to recreating debauched parties and illicit activities. "On with the Business", specifically, comes off like an arena-rocking screed on the shrinking middle class told from the perspective of someone overwhelmed by the pressures of consumer culture, with Finn bemoaning, "Bountiful chemicals / Beautiful kitchens / So many choices, decisions, decisions." The raucous, swaggering "Big Cig" might be more in line with what you'd expect from the Hold Steady both in content and tone, though there's just something more knowing in Finn's insights about being led around by someone he knows is bad for him, realizing that he's served his purpose for her and "she could probably find a better guy" even as he still goes along with a dead-end relationship as far as it'll take him.

Indeed, it's the noticeable yet natural change in Finn's worldly wise outlook that's what is most engaging and compelling about Teeth Dreams, as his tone has developed from the wry bemusement of his best, most quotable material to the sympathetic, even poignant treatments here. That melancholy sense of camaraderie comes through vividly when Finn's describing an ex living in a "storage space down by the airport" on "The Only Thing", or on the panoramic snapshot of "The Ambassador", as he tracks the stories of folks who are at the end of their rope, only to have the music gently lift with piano and organ to suggest there's still enough of a reason to hold on. Accompanied by Kubler and Selvidge's interlaced guitars on the resonant acoustic number "Almost Everything", Finn's voice rings out earnestly on the refrain of "Yeah, there are nights I get terrified / I'm sure you get terrified too / So, hey, won't you show me a sign that I'm getting through to you?," as if he's reaching out so that no one with a life with no guarantees has to go it alone. And on the single "Spinners", the Hold Steady shapes its signature bar-rock moves into something more melodic and sentimental as Finn dispenses relationship advice in sing-along verses, almost crooning reassuring lines like, "Once you're out there everything's possible / Even the bad nights, they aren't all that terrible / Loosen your grip, it feels so incredible."

The idea that the Hold Steady is turning over a new leaf on Teeth Dreams doesn't come to its fullest fruition, though, until the grand, nine-minute closing number "Oaks". Tellingly, appropriately, "Oaks" ends Teeth Dreams with a more peaceful and picturesque kind of dream, as Finn sings of how "We dream of the views from the boats / Of mountains all covered in oaks." What realizes this more idyllic vision is an expansive, almost pastoral sound, with an echoey twang that brings Pavement's Brighten the Corners to mind. Whether the dream of "Oaks" is ultimately a fleeting illusion or the hopeful promise of a new reality, the Hold Steady's earned a well-deserved respite to round out Teeth Dreams, an album about staring down and not running away from a past that haunts the present and future.

8

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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