Music

Tinted Windows: Tinted Windows

Members of Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Hanson form a Power Pop Supergroup only to craft an early contender for the Worst Album of 2009.


Tinted Windows

Tinted Windows

Label: S-Curve
US Release Date: 2009-04-21
UK Release Date: 2009-04-21
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On paper, it works brilliantly.

If you were asked to Frankenstein together your own power-pop supergroup, you'd probably come up with the Tinted Windows band roster. After all, we have Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos on drums, Fountains of Wayne's bassist/chief songwriter Adam Schlesinger, ex-Smashing Pumpkins axe-man James Iha, and Taylor Hanson of, um, Hanson.

Though the prospect of fusing Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne together is more than enough to make the folks running Powerpopaholic squeal with joy (and rightly so), it seems that Hanson and Iha are the odd men out this time around. A closer look proves otherwise: though Hanson will still forever be known for "MMMBop", the trio of long-haired brothers wound up becoming mature pop craftsmen with each subsequent album they put out, going completely independent for awhile while still garnering decent (if unspectacular) sales in the process. Iha, meanwhile, already has one solo album to his credit (1998's Let It Come Down, a disc of lovely '70s-styled acoustic pop), contributed some guitar work to the Fountains of Wayne song "All Kind of Time", and co-owns in the indie label Scratchie Records with Schlesinger. When taking all of this into account, it's easy to expect Tinted Windows to be a great throwback to the alt-pop revival of the mid-'90s -- after all, half of the people responsible for said revival are playing on this album. Really, no matter what way you slice it, Tinted Windows seems like the most natural union of likeminded musicians you can possibly imagine.

At least, until you actually hear the album.

Tinted Windows, tragically, is everything that a pop-rock disc shouldn't be: bland, boring, and completely forgettable. Instead of coming off as a more mainstream New Pornographers, Schlesinger and co. wind up crafting one watered-down Big Star tribute song after another, hoping that good intentions -- not actual, considered songwriting -- will be enough to justify the group's existence. Not only is Tinted Windows a terrible, hookless affair, it may very well be the worst album to be released in 2009 thus far.

Tinted Windows suffers from multiple problems, and chief among them is the notion that Taylor Hanson has enough personality to front a band of this caliber. Vocally, Hanson winds up singing in a detached, unaffected manner that is ill-suiting for the band: Tinted Windows is in dire need of a showman (salesman?) to drive each line home and magnify each emotion. Hanson, instead, glides along like he's doing vocals on the Rock Band video game, afraid that showing too much emotion will get him off track, causing the pixilated crowd to boo him. When "Kind of a Girl" kicks things off, even his "whoa-oh" vocals feel phoned in and forced, like he's pretending to have enthusiasm instead of actually being excited about the song in question. With Fountains of Wayne at least, Chris Collingwood's nasal register wound up giving each track the right amount of nerdy quirk to drive the message home. Here, Hanson's contributions feel negligible at best, and for a group whose intentions are making the Pop Disc to End All Pop Discs, having a replaceable vocalist is a dire problem to have.

Yet, to be fair, perhaps Hanson isn't really being given the proper venue for his singing. The production on this disc is colorless and painfully unimaginative, resulting in each song sounding almost exactly like the one preceding it. As such, all 11 of the band's mid-tempo rockers tend to blur together into one big slush of upbeat sunshine; no one will blame you for getting the indistinctive choruses to "Dead Serious" and "Take Me Back" mixed up when trying to describe this quixotic album to your friends (that is, assuming you could remember what said songs actually sounded like).

Though it's bad enough for a band to have a terrible frontman and lifeless production, none of this would matter if the songs in question were of exceptional quality. Unfortunately for Tinted Windows, however, each track here can only be described as "embarrassing," a low-light for every party involved. Though the album credits note that a majority of the songs were penned by Schlesinger, even the most devoted Wayne fans will be in instant denial over the whole thing: how could one of the most interesting pop songwriters working today churn out a batch of girl-chasing tunes so bland that even the Click Five would be embarrassed to record them? As self-consciously corny as "Stacy's Mom" was, it's hard to believe that the man responsible for that is also responsible for something as pedestrian as the lyric sheet for the song "We Got Something":

I believe in you and me

You know this is the way it's meant to be

We got something

Yeah, we got something

I believe in me and you

We know just what to say, what to do

We got something

Yeah, we got something

Thought the band may certainly claim that this disc in intended as a "throwback" to the days when pop songs could be this innocuous without consequence, it's hard to believe that a band would go as far as to fill an entire disc with songs this anemic, leaving absolutely no excuse for tracks like the wretched Iha-penned "Cha Cha" and the color-by-numbers rocker "Can't Get a Read on You", which feels like a rip-off of other, better rock songs (and besides, hasn't OK Go already recorded two discs of excellent power-pop history lessons?).

"Without Love", "Doncha Wanna", "Back With You" -- the list of drab, uninteresting songs feels never-ending. Though the chorus to "Messing with My Head" features a more lively performance from Hanson (and, as such, feels like a much more considered recording), the highlights on Tinted Windows are few and far between. Listening to the disc straight through, it's hard to remember what even one hook, lyric, or moment of interest. Hell, there aren't even any laughably bad moments to hold up for public ridicule: just a laundry-list of clichéd lyrics and tired instrumentation.

Let's be honest with ourselves here: the only reason we'd be interested in the Tinted Windows in the first place is because of who's actually in the band, our minds awash with the various sonic combinations that can be made with all these different pop maestros coming together to create something grand. Instead, everyone plays it safe, no one takes a risk, and the end result is the most forgettable pop album to be released so far this year. Not only is Tinted Windows a damn shame of an album, it's a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

2

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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