Reviews

A Colorful Cosmic Convergence: "Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1"

The X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy come together again in a story that's as volatile as it is fun.


Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $4.99
Writer: Sam Humphries, Ed McGuinness
Publication Date: 2015-04
Amazon

What is it about power that makes it so corruptive? Like a drug with well-known side-effects that everybody ignores, its capacity for abuse makes heroin look like a bag of gummy worms. Many epic stories, both fiction and non-fiction alike, are structured around those who succumb to this corruption. It’s a story that’s present in every culture and every civilization for some form or another. Yet for some reason, every king and despot ignores it.

The same can be said for a long list of characters in the Marvel Universe. There’s Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force, Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, and Tony Stark and a bottle of bourbon. Time and again, they are overwhelmed by immense power and eventually abuse it. At this point, it’s gotten downright predictable. Any character who attains any level of power whose name isn’t Superman is going to get corrupted by it. So how can that story remain compelling? Well if Spinal Tap has taught us anything, turning the volume up to 11 can sometimes mix things up.

This is premise for Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex #1, the first issue in another major crossover event between Marvel’s breakout stars and the stars that Fox has securely in their greedy clutches. The Trial of Jean Grey showed that these two unlikely teams can create a compelling narrative. This time, they’re not dealing with something as inane as the grossly unfair Shi’ar justice system. They’re dealing with the Black Vortex, an ancient relic capable of giving anyone an overdose of cosmic-powered heroin. It sounds like one of those serious threats that deserves its own Congressional sub-committee. However, the end result is actually a lot more fun and a lot less corrupt.

The narrative is predictable in some respects. Starlord and Kitty Pryde find out that Mr. Knife, who also happens to be Starlord’s now-deposed father, managed to obtain the Black Vortex with the help of the Slaughter Squad. Knowing that a cosmically powered father would ruin every one of his and Kitty’s date nights, they steal it from him. They then enlist the help of the X-men to help them deal with it. Given their experience with cosmic powered people, it saves them the trouble of placing an awkwardly worded Craigslist ad. But the predictability doesn’t keep the story from being fun.

The tone and dynamics of the story are rich in detail. There is some exposition, but it never feels excessive. There is some humor as well, but it never seems overly juvenile, even when Iceman plays a joke on Groot. There’s a fairly solid balance of character interactions and conflict that help make the Black Vortex feel like it’s not just an Infinity Gauntlet rip-off. There is a unique history to this relic that makes it feel unique in a universe full of obscenely powerful artifacts, most of which are probably in Odin’s dresser drawer. It doesn’t try to reinvent the concept that writers like Chris Claremont have perfected with the Phoenix Saga, but it doesn’t have to.

While the concept and execution of the story itself is sound, there are some issues with the overall setup. The manner in which the X-men enter the conflict isn’t as fluid as it was in their previous encounter with the Guardians of the Galaxy in The Trial of Jean Grey. It’s not entirely forced, seeing as how Starlord happens to be dating Kitty Pryde. However, the way in which they get involved is somewhat rushed. It’s like they skipped a few steps between just hanging out with their space buddies and confronting an ancient relic.

Even the concept of the Black Vortex itself might seem somewhat rushed. It’s oddly convenient how Starlord and Kitty Pryde drop in on Mr. Knife after he somehow got his hands on this ancient artifact. It’s actually not quite as convenient as it looks. The Black Vortex has actually been part of a number of stories preceding this one. It has been a driving force for the plot in Starlord’s solo series and it also was mentioned in Cyclops’ solo series. But those who don’t follow these books will likely miss that so it makes the story feel forced when it actually has a couple of prequels. And unlike other sci-fi prequels that involve Jar Jar Binks, these prequels actually contribute something meaningful to the narrative.

It’s still possible to follow this story without following the supporting books. It just makes the story feel more forced than it actually is. It succeeds in bringing the X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy together in another compelling conflict. Once again, they’re up against a powerful enemy with strong personal ties to certain characters. It has all the elements that made The Trial of Jean Grey work so well. It just has a more chaotic and disheveled structure. It’s like starting a movie after skipping 20 minutes ahead. Unless it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, it’ll still make sense.

There are some aspects of the story that could use more detail and depth, but it isn’t horribly lacking in any particular area. It also has plenty of strengths beyond just throwing a bunch of well-known characters together in a way Donald Trump can make a reality show out of. There’s the relationship between Kitty Pryde and Starlord. There’s Jean Grey’s history of being overwhelmed by cosmic power. There’s Hank McCoy’s lingering baggage about messing up the time stream. There’s a lot more going on here than just fighting over an ancient relic.

The structure of Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex #1 may seem confusing, but it throws all the right ingredients into the mix. For a crossover story of this scale, that’s important. No cake was ever made delicious by skimping on the frosting. It’s safe to say that the first layer of frosting has been spread on this story. Whether it’ll add the hot fudge and sprinkles remains to be seen.

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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