Music

Kylie Minogue: Kylie / Enjoy Yourself / Rhythm of Love / Let's Get to It

On these reissues of Kylie Minogue's first four records, the singer starts to figure out who she is, no matter how little her producers/hit-making assembly lines seemed to care.


Kylie Minogue

Kylie

Label: PWL
US Release Date: 2015-02-09
UK Release Date: 2015-02-09
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Kylie Minogue

Enjoy Yourself

Label: PWL
UK Release Date: 2015-02-09
US Release Date: 2015-02-09
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Kylie Minogue

Rhythm of Love

Label: PWL
UK Release Date: 2015-02-09
US Release Date: 2015-02-09
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Kylie Minogue

Let's Get to It

Label: PWL
UK Release Date: 2015-02-09
US Release Date: 2015-02-09
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

When "Can't Get You Out of My Head" broke into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2002 -- its spartan, subterranean groove fulfilling the promise of its title about as well as any song ever has -- it felt like the debut single from a burgeoning dance music maven. Because unless you were an Anglophile supreme in the 1980s, binging on the era's UK soap operas and pop hits, it was probably the first time you'd ever heard of Kylie Minogue.

It was the first time I had. And even though I've been a fan ever since, I've still been in the dark about Minogue's pre-millennium work – there was that cover of "The Locomotion", and … some other stuff, probably? More like a ton of other stuff. The record that capitalized off "Can't Get You Out of My Head", Fever, was her eighth LP, but only the third to see a U.S. release. The last time Minogue's label gave America a shot was in 1989, with a record that went to #1 in the UK but did squat over here.

PWL Records, the label that put out Minogue's early work, has attempted to educate us. They have re-released her first four albums in a variety of formats, all of them remastered and loaded with bonus material. And while they give a valuable snapshot of what was trending in pop music over in England and Minogue's native Australia at the time, they also present their own evidence as to why they might not've caught on everywhere.

Produced by the massively successful team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (aka SAW) – the men responsible for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up", Bananarama's "Venus" and Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round" – all four of these albums are marked by a particular 1980s mainstream R&B milieu that has not aged well. Tinny synth strings tinkle soullessly. Synth bass lines plop like fart bubbles. And lyrics about the fun/not fun nature of love add a sickly scoop of vanilla. But then a really good melody crops up on the chorus, and tries to make up for all of that lost ground.

This is the situation on every track of 1988's Kylie, Minogue's smash hit debut. However, with that fairly loyal "Locomotion" cover as its anchor, the record mostly works, at least as far as hummable bubblegum goes. Several of those well-crafted melodies do transcend the production flaws. "I Should Be So Lucky" sticks in the memory despite it being a straight Astley knockoff. "It's No Secret" has such an effervescent hook that you almost don't realize that the chorus begins with "Our love was a lie." "Turn It Into Love" is Flashdance-ready, and the best thing here. Its theme of processing hate into love is a prototype of the positive mentality that would infuse Minogue's post-millenial work.

On the ensuing Enjoy Yourself, the productions get a bit more ambitious, and Minogue’s singing becomes notably stronger. Yet the waters are muddied. No longer merely bridging the gap between pop charts and dance floors, the artist tries her hand at earnest balladeering and doo-wop on top of breathing life into the still-Astley-rific SAW house sound. So even though that ballad, "Tell Tale Signs", is a beautiful piece of light-McCartney schmaltz, it can't keep Enjoy Yourself from sounding like a messy document of artistic maturation.

The mess clears up a little bit on 1990's Rhythm of Love. Using Madonna's "Express Yourself" as a template, SAW takes a big step in the right direction – crafting big, hooky dance songs that don't try too hard, and letting their star's natural charisma and underrated voice do the rest. "Better the Devil You Know" is Minogue's best early single – a track that wrestles with a lover's flaws over a shimmering dance-pop groove with a hint of worldbeat. She's appropriating Madonna here, but is far from aping her.

1991's Let's Get to It was the artist's final PWL release, and while its awkward takes on New Jack Swing, Disney duet balladry and Jock Jams make it sound more dated by half than Rhythm of Love, it's a confident work marked by Minogue's first official stabs at songwriting. "Right Here, Right Now" lifts a Jesus Jones title from 1990 and a CeCe Peniston groove from 1991, but the sincerity in Kylie's refrain, "I want you to be right here, right now," is purely original. And her cover of Chairmen of the Board's "Give Me Just a Little More Time" complements this early '90s collage way better than you'd think. Unlike "The Locomotion" or "Tears on My Pillow", Minogue marks this R&B classic with a bit of her own personality, even when she's replicating General Johnson's trademark rolling r's.

It's easy to be tough on these early records, to hear what a hit-making assembly line sounded like in 1989 and scoff. But for Kylie fans, this is important stuff. Hearing her find her voice on recordings that often sound like they were written by focus groups, her eventual world-beating success feels even more deserved. So it stands to reason that despite all the cheap synths and bottom lines that suffocate these tracks, there are more than a few that I can't get out of my head.

6

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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