Music

Akron/Family: Love is Simple

Akron/Family's albums get more generous with each release; this one might just be the album of the year.


Akron/Family

Love Is Simple

Label: Young God
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-24
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When a band as talented and ambitious as Akron/Family claim they are trying, with their new album Love Is Simple, to better capture their live sound, it seems like a let-down. It is a such a banal, overstated idea. Many a band have sought to capture their live sound, and all too often this means more volume and less complication. But lucky for us, Akron/Family is smarter than that.

They know that their live show is a far cry from the work on their first, eponymous album. That album is thoughtful and well-wrought, beautiful in its frailty, but also stretches itself too thin at times, barely able to hold itself up. The sheer anarchic volume of the band's live show has always gone a long way towards filling in those holes, and offering a surprising experience for any audience members who only know the band on record. The quiet guys you'd hear in the studio stand on stage and let their amps squeal and wear cymbals out and scream the stale air out of the bottom of their lungs. Clearly, the band has recognized how this energy could help their studio sound, and put touches of it on their mini-LP Meek Warrior.

But now, with Love is Simple, the studio band is coming full-on with the live band influence...sort of. While the band knows there is energy in their live act, they are also smart enough to know that it would not work as a direct translation. Instead, they've smartly taken elements of their live show -- a heightened guitar presence, a more "electric" sound, energetic percussion -- and meshed it with their ability to craft the beautifully quiet. The results are not only boot-in-the-ass surprising, but also the best thing the band has done to date.

The album opens with "Love, Love, Love (Everyone)", an incantatory, chanting track that invites us, ever so gently, to go out and love. The band's always been great at singing as a group, and the opener is no different, but it also serves as a build up to the second track, "Ed Is a Portal". The fangs of the live band start to show here, as the song starts with distant gang-yelling and hand-clapping behind a plucked banjo until, as the vocals rise in the mix and crescendo, the song settles into a dance 'round the fire anthem. It chugs along, full of sweat and blood, showing the band's penchant for folk instrumentation, but laying it over drums stronger than anything on the first full-length. Eventually, the song ends with the band taking us through Ed, who we're told is a portal, and we come out the other side into a spacey drum machine that makes the vocals that sounded so warm for six minutes now seem cold and vacuous.

These same changes come quick and in droves in the album's two middle tracks. "Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms" starts as a murky folk song, full of bongos and scant xylophone notes. Like many of their songs, hoards of backing vocals come in and the song elevates, but just as it does everything cuts out but the percussion and the song spends the rest of its time breaking down into animal cacophony. It's the most out-of-control moment on the record, with all that live-show shouting over hard-struck drums and sampled noises, and it serves as the perfect hinge into the next track, "There's So Many Colors".

"There's So Many Colors" moves as many times as its predecessor, and stretches out over eight minutes; nothing new for an Akron/Family song. What's different here are the musical touchstones and the cohesion of the song's movements. With this song they start to tap into a classic rock vein that's always been merely hinted at in their work. And not only is this song arena-rock big, it is a bonafide anthem. For half the song, it seems like their same ol' almost-folk, maybe with a tinge of the Kinks in its hook, until a big electric guitar riff comes in and the boys straight rock out. "Sun rise, sun set, sun never set and rise, reach," they sing over and over again, commanding a continuity from the world around them they clearly strive for in their music. More and more people join in with them, and there's this trad-rock congregation all of a sudden, filling your chest with every repeat of the refrain until the song falls away at its highest peak into an exquisite, Brit-folk finish.

Those two songs take up nearly 20 minutes in the middle of the record, but prepare us for the variety found in the album's second half. We get the back-porch ballad "Crickets" (as beautiful as Akron/Family's "I'll Be on the Water), the cascading guitars of "Phenomena", and even a successful shot at a sailor's singalong with the arm-linking blast that is "Of All the Things".

And in all this they don't mind lightening up once in a while. "Phenomena" finds them concerned over people who argue over white rice versus brown, and then in the second verse they substitute Jesus for the rice and continue the argument. There's a song here called "Pony's O.G.", and of course the aforementioned "Ed Is a Portal". These guys know how to have fun, without dipping their toe too far in the cold waters of irony, and also without disrupting the tone of this beautiful album. They bring it all back together with the final track, a reprise of "Love, Love, Love", and you can sort of feel the credits rolling, the band standing arm-in-arm and bowing as the song plays. That they seamlessly bring us back to the place we began shows their ability to take the most hidden of back roads at every turn and still get us to where we're supposed to be. And what makes this possibly the best record of the year isn't just that it gets us back to where we're supposed to "go out and love", but that now, after experiencing all the twists and turns, the swells and trenches of the album, it sounds like a challenge more than a request, like it is impossible -- after hearing music so to the bone honest and generous -- for us not to go out and love.

"Some might think this isn't the right sound," the band sings on "Phenomena". And frankly, if anyone thinks that about Love is Simple, I don't know that its possible to explain to them what they're missing.

Doesn't mean we can't go out and try, though.

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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