Reviews

Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong

This may not show Corgan in the most favorable light, but it shows him in an honest one, making for a surprisingly humanizing viewing experience.


Smashing Pumpkins

If All Goes Wrong

Subtitle: If All Goes Wrong
Label: Coming Home
US Release Date: 2008-11-11
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When the Smashing Pumpkins disbanded in 2000, they were very much going out on a high note: Billy Corgan and co., despite less-than-stellar sales for its criminally underrated final album Machina, managed to keep it together for one final show at Chicago's famed Metro, the group quietly releasing a free album online (the aptly-named Machina II), recording a last-minute single for the fans (the gorgeous guitar pop of "Untitled"), and -- truly -- ending their reign as alt-rock gods with dignity and grace. Even in the post-Pumpkins aftermath, Corgan managed to form an optimistic new band named Zwan, which -- though imploding after less than two years -- managed to churn out one very good album of upbeat three-pronged guitar rock (2003's Mary, Star of the Sea).

Then, of course, came the release of Corgan's critically-reviled solo album TheFutureEmbrace. Then came the full-length newspaper ad Corgan bought declaring his intentions to reunite the Pumpkins. Then came the revelation that though the Pumpkins were reforming, only two of its original members (Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain) were returning.

This is where If All Goes Wrong picks up.

At first, Jack Gulick's documentary on the Smashing Pumpkins appears to gloss over far too many details: it opens by saying the Pumpkins disbanded in 2000 and reformed in 2006, neglecting to mention Corgan's failed projects, his blogged tirades against his bandmates (particularly former guitarist James Iha), and other critical details. Yet as the film rolls on, context gradually emerges, the energy picks up, and soon we are in fact getting a multi-faceted look at Billy Corgan the Songwriter, Billy Corgan the Band Leader, and -- of course -- Billy Corgan the Megalomaniac.

When reforming in 2006, many people wondered if, in fact, the original lineup of the Pumpkins was going to be intact. When the band debuted live during a residency at a small club called The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, only Corgan and Chamberlain were the familiar faces. Corgan went out of his way to bring in complete unknowns to fill in the band's vacancies: Jeff Shroeder fills in on guitar, Ginger Reyes tackles bass duties, and Lisa Harrington brings piano/keyboards into the mix. All of the newcomers display a sweet naiveness during their interviews, often stunned that random auditions and calls out of nowhere have lead them to touring with one of the biggest alternative-rock giants of the '90s. Often, however, Corgan emphasizes the fact that this, inherently, is a new band, and -- as such -- they are enabling the Pumpkins to move in new directions.

Yet Gulick's documentary makes one thing very clear: this is still Corgan's band, plain and simple. During each residency (first at the Orange Peel and then later at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco), Corgan becomes so inspired by his surroundings that he begins writing Dylan-esque folk songs at an almost Pollard-esque pace, with song titles ranging from "Peace & Love" to "?", sometimes textured with Corgan donning a neck-harmonic and truly inviting any/all Dylan comparisons (good or bad) he has coming to him. Corgan is unafraid to spend whole portions of the band's live sets to these new acoustic stylings, intriguing loyalists while deliberately alienating those looking for a short nostalgic fix. Gulick's camera takes to concert attendees at points, asking for their thoughts on the new songs. What's surprising is how utterly indifferent fans are to the new material, some giving Corgan a pass for trying something new while others wistfully acknowledging that the new material has yet to be properly fleshed out.

It is here that the documentary begins gaining traction: by showing the reactionary side to Corgan's grand gestures, we get a far richer, multi-faceted viewing experience. Case-in-point: the first night of the band's Fillmore residency features a set list that is far from crowd-pleasing, ending with the 30+ minute meandering prog jam "Gossamer". During the performance of that half-hour monstrosity, the camera cuts to shots of fans leaving during the song, obviously realizing that this is not the Smashing Pumpkins that they fell in love with during the '90s.

The documentary then goes to show a major newspaper giving a scathing review of the show the next day. Corgan is fully aware that his choices are unpopular, yet he's unafraid to trudge on in the face of staunch criticism. His personal assistant gets her own vignette detailing the sometimes love/hate relationship that she has with her employer, new guitarist Jeff has a meltdown onstage after Corgan argues with him about his amp setting, and -- during perhaps the most honest moment of the entire film -- Corgan becomes quite defensive when telling the documentary crew why he won't play catalog classics "Soma" or "Mayonnaise": because James Iha had a hand in writing them. So upset he gets in discussing his relationship with James, he actually throws his acoustic guitar on his hotel bed in an act of frustration, showing the wounds and ghosts that still haunt Corgan to this day. It may not show Corgan in the most favorable light, but it does show him in an honest one, making for a surprisingly humanizing viewing experience.

It's a shame, then, that the documentary balances these honest moments with conversations with annoying, ego-stroking talking heads (often credited simply as "writers"), praising Billy's daring for doing these residencies and writing these new songs, some even claiming that no band has ever done these kinds of things before, which, of course, is simply not true. Yet the biggest criticism safety net that the documentary casts is an interview with like-minded egotistical ringleader Pete Townshend. At times, the Who guitarist actually provides a great deal of insight, noting that Pumpkins' songs helped define people during certain times in their lives, but, now, they don't need those songs anymore -- all they want is to indulge the nostalgia. Townshend stumbles, meanwhile, when he dismisses music critics altogether, his statement serving as a way for Corgan (and the documentary) to justify his sometimes antagonistic decisions, deliberately challenging his audience by indulging his every whim and fancy.

As Daniel E. Catullo's companion documentary The Fillmore Residency proves, Corgan's indulging himself quite a bit these days. Starting with a trio of new acoustic numbers ("The Rose March", "Peace & Love", "99 Floors"), it's obvious that this is going to be far from a typical Pumpkins concert. Once the full band joins in, however, things begin to pick up -- and get weird. Some old fan favorites (namely "Blue Skies Bring Tears" and "Heavy Metal Machine") get completely refigured, as Corgan's spacey, guitar solo-heavy treatments leave these songs virtually unrecognizable from their earlier incarnations. Even the new rock songs -- "Superchrist" in particular -- fail to make much of an impact. It's a relief, then, that older tracks like "Lucky 13" and "Untitled" (the latter incorrectly listed as "previously unreleased" on the DVD packaging) manage to bring the rest of the show into sharp relief, as their big choruses, strong melodies, and unchanged renditions make for easy concert highlights.

Yet if The Fillmore Residency has one major flaw, it's the most obvious flaw that any concert doc can have: it's just too damn long. There are only so many times you can show shots of Corgan wildly soloing on his electric before boredom sets in, and by the time the band gets around to its second round of generic acoustic stylings, the itch to press the track-skip button simply becomes too great. It is here, however, that Corgan debuts the best of his "new" songs: the lovely, wounded "No Surrender", which absolutely cries out for a proper studio rendition.

Any good momentum that is gained by this song, however, is immediately squashed by what follows: "Gossamer" -- in its entirety. Though the song starts off promising enough (the first two movements in particular are particularly grabbing), absolutely no new ideas are introduced during this 30+ minute epic slog. Though it is thrilling to hear Corgan and Shroeder have their guitars duet in perfect unison, it's a gesture that grows tiresome by the time the song reaches its 17th minute. Then, of course, comes the ending coda, which Corgan feels the urge to repeat it again and again, resulting a song that truly feels like it will never end. No, this is not the most crowd-pleasing of sets, but Corgan makes enjoying it a far more arduous a task than it needs to be.

Ultimately, If All Goes Wrong paints the portrait of a band in flux, which -- despite having released a new album with new members and close to a dozen new songs to its credit -- still feels like it's in search of an identity. Corgan wants to move in a new musical direction, but by brandishing the Smashing Pumpkins moniker, he signals that the band's musical history is alive and well in him, when -- in fact -- it's not. It's a strange place for a band to be in, but it makes for a fascinating (if somewhat frustrating) viewing experience.

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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