Music

Tori Amos: Abnormally Attracted to Sin

You might be surprised, the way a little sin can pull you back in.


Tori Amos

Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Label: Universal Republic
US Release Date: 2009-05-19
UK Release Date: 2009-05-18
Artist website
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Amazon
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Oh god, 70-plus minutes again. Haven't we been through this enough already? Hasn't Tori Amos, after three consecutive albums that crossed the same threshold, gotten this out of her system yet? Isn't she about due for the pared-down back-to-basics album that every artist must create after spending too long on bloated, overlong vanity projects?

Granted, there has been merit to every single one of those other 75-minute beasts of albums -- Scarlet's Walk was a frequently brilliant, beautiful story, and The Beekeeper was one of those questionable albums that slowly turns into a masterpiece the more you listen to it, read about it, and learn about everything that makes it what it is. Amos' willingness to talk in such detail about the latter album was part of what made it such an indispensable album, because a nigh-impenetrable wall of treacle turns into an intensely personal document of inner turmoil. The problem is, we're losing patience, because it seems that Amos has turned exclusively to those impenetrable walls, only allowing us the briefest of glimpses at the naked catharsis (because really, does "Fat Slut" even count?) that she was once so adept at presenting for us. There's no doubt that the songwriting is as personal, as wrenching, and as conflicted as ever, but when it's hidden in reverb, metaphor, and affect, it becomes harder and harder to want to look for the emotion underneath the songwriting that has for better or worse grown up on us.

It's that very pattern that makes American Doll Posse so puzzling, because the inclination given that which preceded it is to assume that there's something deeper to be found than the mood pieces that were so clumsily put together on that album. Granted, bits of it were fun and easy to rock out to, and it makes better wallpaper than most other albums of its girth, but it retained the guarded feel without the mystery of Scarlet and The Beekeeper. Moments of it sounded like a songwriter trying to break out of the shell she'd built for herself, but mostly failing miserably.

In that context, perhaps we can look at American Doll Posse as a transitional work, given that the hype is for real, and Abnormally Attracted to Sin is the first album since perhaps To Venus and Back to truly engage the listener on a visceral level, and on the first listen no less.

That's not to say that Ms. Amos is raging here. One could infer from the very title that this is an album to be absorbed with a raised eyebrow and a sly grin. Abnormally Attracted to Sin is not the title one gives a work in which one is purging the demons of the past, present, and future, rather, it's the title one gives a work when one is tired of playing it safe, when one is looking to dip a toe -- and perhaps no more -- into the black waters on the other side of the spectrum. You hear it in opening track "Give", a song that recalls A Perfect Circle's more ambient moments, when she sings words like "Soon, before the sun begins to rise / I know that I must give / So that I can live" in that beautiful way that indicates she knows just what she's doing when she offers words so vague, yet so foreboding. You hear it in the seven-minute epic finale "Lady in Blue", when she pulls the sublime trick of actually closing her mouth for the song's final minute and a half, as if to say she's stepped off the ledge, goodbye, goodbye, listen to the band, goodbye. Rather than something meditative, it's something triumphant, something only possible from a woman freed of the expectations of what she's supposed to be.

The songs in between are the exploration of the journey from that dark, quiet beginning to that beautifully indulgent conclusion, and boy are there some twists and turns along the way. Some songs recall her past: "Flavor" is the direct inverse of Venus' "Lust", outside looking in rather than the other way around, yet still just as quiet and conteplative. Some songs recall the times: would "Not Dying Today" ever have happened without the success of Vampire Weekend? Much as I'd like to think so, it's not entirely clear. And then there are the moments unlike anything she's ever done, like the title song -- "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" is like the electronic experiments of From the Choirgirl Hotel crossed with film noir, with an acoustic guitar break for a bridge, and it all just sort of works.

Perhaps most satisfying of all of it is the realization that "Maybe California" is as wrenching a song as she's ever written, so quiet in its despair, but so clear at the same time. "As mothers we have our troubles / You'll leave them with emptiness for their lifetime / All their wishes will be dashed upon those cliffs," she sings as we hear one of the most rational arguments against suicide ever put to song.

And yes, there are wrong turns -- at least, it sounds like there are, right now. This is the danger with trying to dissect a Tori Amos album so close to its release date, that six months, a year, two years from now, you'll hear something in a song that you never heard before, and you'll regret writing it off all that time ago. For now, "500 Miles", "Fast Horse", and "Police Me" all sound like mid-tempo drivel bordering on cliché, or as close as Tori Amos can get to cliché. Yet, when that which surrounds those errant children is so strong, so somehow vibrant in its slinky smoothness, you're willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

If you've grown weary of wandering around in Tori's head, not quite sure what's emotional or what's just empty metaphor, if you've committed yourself to avoiding her recent output for fear of being disappointed again, do come back for one more go 'round. Ignore that 70-minute timestamp and try to appreciate what's here; you might be surprised, the way a little sin can pull you back in.

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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