Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk

The album feels like Paisley exerting his countryness, just three years after titling an album This is Country Music.

Brad Paisley

Moonshine in the Trunk

Label: Sony Nashville/Arista
US Release Date: 2014-08-25
UK Release Date: 2014-08-25

Brad Paisley’s 10th studio album begins with the sound of a beer can opening and ends with a song about Jesus. In between are songs about float trips, drinking beer, drinking margaritas, lovers driving in escape mode like the Dukes of Hazzard, lovers parking their pick-up truck somewhere down a dirt road and country folk coming into money a la the Beverly Hillbillies. There are product-placement-style references to Bud Light and Chevrolet. There are country-music references to "George frickin’ Strait", Carrie Underwood and a Paisley song from 2003, "Mud on the Tires".

In other words, the album feels like Paisley exerting his countryness, just three years after titling an album This is Country Music. In between, though, he had a little kerfuffle, at least an Internet blip of one, when his 2013 album Wheelhouse featured a clunky duet with LL Cool J, "Accidental Racist", that was meant as North-South racial reconciliation and came across more muddled in message, to put it kindly. So if This is Country Music found Paisley retrenching in the country genre after catching fire from country-music diehards for writing a song expressing awe, and admiration, at America’s electing a black president ("Welcome to the Future", from 2009’s American Saturday Night), then Moonshine in the Trunk comes off like an additional step of retrenching after Wheelhouse.

Actually, more than just asserting his countryness, Moonshine in the Trunk seems like an effort to re-assert his Paisley-ness, to get back to the sort of songs that first got him commercial attention. If Wheelhouse as a title partly meant that he was trying to bust out of his wheelhouse, this time the bulk of the songs do represent his wheelhouse, or at least his comfort zone. That zone would be a mix of love songs -- a very specific "in awe that she would love me" sort of love songs -- and humorous numbers, either self-deprecating ones or songs that lightly poke at societal customs and human behavior. When it comes to love songs, Moonshine… has both the slow-churning ballads of devotion ("Perfect Storm") and the more nimble, skip-along songs of infatuation ("You Shouldn’t Have To", "Cover Girl").

The human-behavior songs this time include a couple drinking/having fun songs that also use that as metaphors beyond partying -- for example, the "when life gives you limes / make Margaritas" line on "Limes" -- and a couple songs about stumbling into money, and spending it: "River Bank" and "High Life". The latter devolves into Paisley and Carrie Underwood ad-libbing about their favorite Chick-Fil-A menu items, perhaps trying to tap into their CMA Awards-hosting chemistry.

That song is an example of something else that Paisley attempts here. Even as he harks back to the style and form of his earlier hits, he’s trying to stay some sort of current in song topics. So "High Life" jokes on lawsuits and big-dollar-amounts given to regular folk slighted by larger entities, in a way that tries to stay a bit neutral -- sympathizing with them while also poking fun at them. In a more serious, but maybe not, vein, "Gone Green" describes country folk getting environmentally minded in an aw-shucks way that tries to get laughs from the conveniences lost for the sake of the environment, while also establishing his own environmental bonafides.

On parts of Moonshine in the Trunk, he also seems to be trying to do what he did on "Welcome to the Future", which is write from his perspective, in this particular time period, about the state of America today, but do so without generating controversy or taking stances that segments of his audience will get upset over. So we have "American Flag on the Moon", a song that takes the "oh my, can you believe it" stance of "Welcome to the Future" but tries to focus on a general sense of "we can do anything." In a way it seems a sequel to "Welcome to the Future", since it starts with references to political gridlock. But he frames his disillusionment in familiar, somewhat un-usable terms of "Americans can do anything." When a choir of kids enter the song to "dare us to dream," it presents some kind of litmus test, as to whether you tear up or throw your shoe at your speakers.

A related song, in its present-day perspective, its American Saturday Night-esque attempt at personal, letter-writing-ish songwriting and its perhaps too-rosy optimism, is "Shattered Glass". It’s a father singing to a daughter about how she can do anything, as a woman in 2014 "the sky’s the limit." It’s meant to be a song of empowerment, one set up to accompany a slide show of accomplishment photos or graduation photos. But its insistence that the world is different now also seems short-sighted in an unfortunately Paisley-like way, not acknowledging the struggles women still have to get equal pay and equal opportunities, or the role class plays.

The album tilts toward the end in this direction, of songs about America that aim for insight but clunk their way towards some semblance of it. The Jesus song I mentioned earlier ("Me and Jesus") is a fairly open-minded one -- essentially, it’s up to individual people to decide who or what Jesus is -- but actually isn’t the proper last track on the album. It’s an "extra special bonus track" on digital versions.

The proper last song is called "Country Nation". In awkward fashion it ties Paisley’s country retrenchment together with his supposed social commentary side. It’s about the nation within our nation, the "country nation" built, as far as I can tell, of factory workers who drive Chevy trucks and watch college football. They also listen to country music on the radio. They’re the audience he wants, in other words. When he jokes at the start of the first song ("Crushin’ It") that he hasn’t had a hit song in a while ("it’s been a long time since I hit one out of the park"), it’s hard to then not hear the entirety of Moonshine in the Trunk as an attempt to do just that. Or at least get some corporate endorsements -- trucks, beer, college football, Chick-Fil-A -- along the way.


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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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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