Music

God Help the Girl: God Help the Girl

Belle & Sebastian mastermind Stuart Murdoch's latest project is as likeable as anything he's done.


God Help the Girl

God Help the Girl

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2009-06-23
UK Release Date: 2009-06-22
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Stuart Murdoch's latest project requires some explanation. It's not a Belle & Sebastian album, but the members of Belle & Sebastian perform on it, and two of the 14 tracks are covers of the group's songs. Murdoch sings on it, too; but doesn't take the lead role that he does in his main gig. But just as much as Belle & Sebastian, and as much as the material he's put out under his own name, God Help the Girl is a Stuart Murdoch project. This album -- the first of a planned two from the recording sessions completed so far -- is being billed as a "musical narrative". What this means may be some combination of feature film, documentary, or just a fancy marketing-friendly framing of what is essentially a lovely stand-alone album. In any case, there's a story.

The original advertisement, placed in the local paper, read "Girl singer needed for autumnal recording project. Must have a way with a tune." And gave some clues: "Ballpark, Ronettes, Friend and Lover, Twinkle". To put that in context Friend and Lover were a husband-and-wife folk duo from the '60s; the Ronettes were, of course, the seminal girl-group of the '60s; Twinkle and Ballpark are too obscure for me. Murdoch's original idea may have been to create a '60s girl group in modern incarnation, but things have thankfully turned out somewhat closer to Murdoch's own indie-literate sound. Well, when your backing band is Belle & Sebastian, you're not going to stick to "Be My Baby".

Murdoch's music brings a warm familiarity; you often find yourself wondering where you've heard his songs before. God Help the Girl isn't helped in this odd quality by the fact that two of the songs are well-recognized Belle & Sebastian favourites. "Funny Little Frog", and "Act of the Apostle", both from The Life Pursuit, are slowed down and jazzed-out here. Their timbre, and the differences from the originals, really defines God Help the Girl. Where we had earlier upbeat indie pop and Murdoch's brittle tenor, the new versions are more expansive, and more reliant on piano and strings. The switch to female voice is almost revelatory. It clarifies the character, especially on "Act of the Apostle", in a way that's completely consistent with the rest of the album.

The characters in Murdoch's songs are never as straightforward as they first appear -- in other words, they're human. Often, they'll declare one thing and be shown to embody the opposite; characteristically, this contrast is played for subtle irony instead of existential disillusion. On "God Help the Girl", surely one of the best pop songs to be written this (or any) year, Catherine Ireton begins "There is no way I'm looking for a boyfriend." She's upbeat and contrarian. But it's all a bluff, because she sits "for hours just waiting for his phone call". Later, "If You Could Speak" introduces a different character, lovely and lonely but content in a "checkered shirt and a dress". Like much of Murdoch's music, the melodies fit like a comfy sweater, pulled down over your hands in front of the fire. Or at least, they conjure up this romantic, pastoral vision. Yes, there's whistling and fingerclicks. Don’t hate on the form. We fall in love with these melodies because, in a large part, we are caught up in the characters Murdoch's created for us.

The vividness of these characters bodes well for a future film (if it is made), and hearing these songs in the setting of an indie hipster-musical would surely be something to get excited about. It is true that the songs have more of a musical theatre flavour than Murdoch's previous work. Call-response duets make up a fair chunk of the album, and Murdoch allows his singers the latitude to warble, occasionally, in that declarative way of musical theatre. "Perfection as a Hipster" trades off lines of romance and rejection; "Pretty Eve in the Tub" swirls back and forth over a light piano quintet.

Over all this gloss, Murdoch's created a set of perfect pop songs. It's almost too lovely, but then lovely's great sometimes too. God Help the Girl, old-fashioned and without artifice though it may be, is supremely welcoming. Its charm -- and those tunes! -- are likely to make it an album you find yourself returning to, again and again, for the simple joy of listening to it. I really hope God Help the Girl the film gets made, but if it doesn't, this album and any that follow are more than enough indeed.

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

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Festival promises an incredible audio-visual experience from musicians and artists like Solange, St. Vincent, Thom Yorke, Ryoji Ikeda and more.

With 2017 coming to a close, year-end lists are pouring forth, and everyone is wondering what were some of the hottest albums or tracks they overlooked. But, even with winter fast approaching, there is still a chance to catch some great artists in a unique festival environment.

Keep reading... Show less

Talay's new tune will win points with those not shy of expressing their holiday joy with four-letter cusses.

Most Decembers, I don't get super excited by the prospect of sitting down and preparing a bunch of holiday cards for mailing. And I certainly do my best to avoid venturing anywhere in the vicinity of SantaCon, the bar crawl for a North Pole-themed mob. But for those who like their eggnog with a little extra something, the new tune from Talay may become your new rallying cry.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image