Music

Air Traffic: Fractured Life

Mike Mineo

The latest hyped sensations from the UK attempt to live up to hefty expectations on their powerful, piano-oriented debut.


Air Traffic

Fractured Life

Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2007-07-14
UK Release Date: 2007-07-02
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Hype has a fascinating way of integrating itself into music. It can carry an artist to the heights of success on expectations alone while simultaneously possessing the power to cause a widespread consensus of disappointment, leaving little room for error or artistic experimentation. While the United States and the UK have both recently generated plenty of reputable indie-rock artists who have risen through such commercialized ranks, it is the indie artists from the UK who have seen the most significant form of national publicity. Since the dawning of this decade, arguably every year has witnessed a new act emerging from the UK with a swarm of persistent press by their sides, despite the fact that the majority of these artists had only released one or two songs prior to their global exposure. Such sentiments display the modern importance of a stellar single, often so irresistible that the band hopes that the audience will buy the album just for it in particular. From Bloc Party to the Arctic Monkeys, the recently dubbed “art-rock” explosion has seen artists latch on to the revolving door of what appears to be the most profitable stylistic trend of the moment, often spurring successes based on their rampantly widespread approach alone.

Air Traffic, a quartet from Bournemouth, are the latest in a string of British artists to revel in this form of marketed glory. Their formulaic symptoms for success are highly evident. Apart from the fact that they have drawn critical comparisons to two of Britain’s favorite sons in Radiohead and Muse, Air Traffic already have two acclaimed singles on top of the UK charts, a record deal with a major label, and a slew of enthusiastic acclamations from the likes of Steve Lamacq and Jools Holland. What else could an up-and-coming British band ask for? For Air Traffic, several claims of diversity would be helpful. In an effort to distance themselves from the guitar-happy approaches of fellow contemporaries in the vein of the the Rakes or Kaiser Chiefs, Air Traffic takes pride in a technique that relies significantly on the use of piano. As their anticipated debut, Fractured Life, displays, the approach provides for a sense of fresh excitement in the midst of a scene where other repetitive artists rely on agitated guitar chords and habitual rhythm sections for a passionless effect.

From the initial listen, frontman Chris Wall appears to be the driving force behind the band's excitably stimulating sound. Apart from his imperative piano work and guitar contributions, Wall possesses some of the most powerfully diversifying vocals I have heard all year. Suitable for both invigorating arena rock and sweeping emotional ballads, the vocals transition themselves amicably between each track. Though the comparisons to Coldplay’s Chris Martin on piano-oriented tracks like “No More Running Away” or the exceptional single, “Shooting Star”, will likely be the most illustrated among critics, likenesses to Sigur Rós' Jónsi Birgisson or Muse's Matthew Bellamy remain more subtly effective in nature. “Empty Space”, one of the most touching tracks on the album, is accompanied solely by Wall’s vocals and his distinctive piano-laden melody. Though the track is minimal in production and instrumentation, the sheer power of the melody and lyrical delivery provides for more than enough satisfaction. Wall’s falsetto demonstrated in the hearty chorus reaches a pitch that only falls short to the likes of Birgisson or Bellamy, aided even more dramatically by Wall’s compelling piano usage. If Air Traffic ever deteriorates for some reason, Wall would most likely be more than content as a solo artist who incorporates nothing but his efficacious vocals and his piano skills into his repertoire.

Despite the heavy involvement of piano throughout the album, Air Traffic also demonstrates on Fractured Life that they can express quality in a more conventional manner. In fact, their breakthrough single, “Charlotte”, relies more vitally on guitars than any other instrument available. Showing a keen ear for infectious riffs, Wall confidently and fervently bursts through a series of consecutive hooks, primarily drawn out by an ecstatic chorus in which Wall exclaims, “I’m wasted, face down on the floor, can’t take any more”. As elementary as the lyrics are, the song remains a foot-tapping thrill ride, drawing likable comparisons to the Futureheads and Hot Hot Heat both vocally and instrumentally. Apart from the irritably uneven “Get in Line”, it is the only track on the album that lacks prominent piano use. The other single, “Shooting Star”, implements both the use of guitar and piano seamlessly, being an indication of how Air Traffic performs when they are rolling on all cylinders. Though Fractured Life takes the predictable route by showing its weakness on the last several tracks on the album, it remains an impressive debut largely in part to Chris Wall’s eclectic vocal and piano use. While Air Traffic may initially be looked on only as a quality singles band with exceptionally infectious gems like “Shooting Star”, several tracks like the emotionally drawing “Empty Space” provide for a sense of genuine songwriting that very few artists in Air Traffic’s niche can accomplish with as much resonance.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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