Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

Stephen Rauch

I've always thought of Little Earthquakes as the closest thing you can get to pure emotion distilled onto a CD.

Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 1992-02-25

Tori Amos saved my life. It's as simple as that. I seem to be getting past the stage where I feel the need to burden every third person I encounter with my tale of woe, but here's the short version: three waves of depression, culminating in my exit from college midway past the first year. I was already a fan of Tori, but after that, she basically took over my life, and for a while was practically all I listened to. For over a year.

Tori, of course, seems to inspire this kind of devotion. In my mind, there's no one else out there whose work is so intensely personal and emotional. I've always thought of Little Earthquakes as the closest thing you can get to pure emotion distilled onto a CD. Tori's debut album (not counting the widely misunderstood Y Kant Tori Read release) shows her at her most intimate -- indeed, many have likened Little Earthquakes to "Tori's diary", and while the album sometimes teeters on the edge of sounding too confessional, there is ample room for the listener to inject her or his emotions and experience.

Which brings us to the point, which is: why do we listen to music in the first place? And there will always be people who listen to achieve a sense of peace and healing. Not that listening to Tori is an easy ride, as she shifts from the achingly beautiful to the socked-in-the-gut, crying-your-eyes-out emotional meltdown. And while this can turn off a lot of listeners, there will always be people who come with that need. I've often joked that you aren't allowed to listen to Tori unless you've had your life shattered in some way or other; a good friend of mine (and a Toriphile) puts it that you don't get into Amos unless you have some kind of deep-seated emotional need.

But there is no shortage of singers out there who go for the emotional jugular, whose music is nowhere near as powerful. Part of the reason for this is that so much of Tori is in the little abstractions and non-sequiturs, and so she never seems to attack a certain point head on, but with humor, or just plain loopiness, like "Silent All These Years'" "I've got the antichrist in the kitchen yelling at me again / Been saved again by the garbage truck", before launching into the emotional heart of the song. And while other singers (Jewel, a favorite target, comes to mind) go straight for hallmark-style endearments or transparently manipulative stories, Tori leaves the listener plenty of room to fill in details -- most likely from their own lives. The key to a song's lasting influence on listeners is in how much we can make it our own. Call it projection, call it identification, but I must have listened to this CD thousands of times, and "Silent All These Years" still gets me teary.

And so an account of what Little Earthquakes is about, let alone why it is essential, is going to be completely idiosyncratic, more so than with most other albums, but here we go: Little Earthquakes is about surviving, about enduring. The album's title gives a clue, as eventually, something is going to come along that knocks down the whole life you've built for yourself. And when this happens, you can stay down, or you can begin to pick up the pieces and look for something new.

The songs on Little Earthquakes are uniformly excellent, but the album would qualify as essential on the strength of four songs alone: "Silent All These Years", "Winter", "Tear in Your Hand", and "Little Earthquakes". So I'll try to just give you the highlights.

"Silent All These Years": The song that means more to me than any other, the song about putting up with all of life's little indignities, but you don't mind, "hey but I don't care because sometimes I said sometimes I hear my voice". The theme of struggling to find one's own voice leads into the flourish after the second verse, which is must be the most beautiful 30 seconds or so of music out there: "Years go by will I still be waiting for somebody else to understand … / Years go by will I choke on my tears, until finally there is nothing left?"

"Winter": Ok, so we've all done the fantasy thing, where we pretend the singer is singing to us, in love with us. But here the love isn't quite romantic, more familial: "When you gonna make up your mind / When you gonna love you as much as I do?" This is music to listen to with all the lights off, curled up in a little ball. Here, Tori's voice is at its most beautiful, which is saying something. And above all, the song is an affirmation that whatever happens, no matter how much it may seem like it, you are not alone. And Tori understands her audience well enough to understand that she is mother just as often as lover.

"Tear in your Hand": When whatever you've been dreading most, happens to you, and you find you're still there, what then? And the playfulness of the song aside, just standing up can be a great victory, and a single tear can hold all the power in the world. "I tell you there're pieces of me you've never seen". And the 30-second part at 2:39 in the song is the reason they let you cue back and listen to parts of songs more than once. Extra points for being the song that got me into Sandman.

"Little Earthquakes": For when there's more wrong with your life than breaking up with your boy/girlfriend. So whatever got you here, what are you going to do about it? At first, you have to lament; "Ooh, these little earthquakes / Here we go again / Ooh, these little earthquakes / Doesn't take much to rip us into pieces". Each time it happens, there's the sinking feeling that it's happening again, and then it happens, but what then? The song ends with the refrain of "give me life, give me pain, give me myself again", first with just the chorus, and then Tori's voice in the background, slowly building until it drowns out the chorus of voices. So comes pain, but with it an affirmation of life. And Tori's voice, balanced out by the male chorus, simply must be heard to be believed.

And while anyone else's interpretation will likely be totally different from mine, that is precisely the point. Whatever your need, you will find it here, as long as it runs deep, and it's one you cannot ignore. You may as well focus on other songs, with the anger of "Precious Things", or the overwhelming story of surviving a rape in "Me and a Gun". If this sounds too melodramatic for your tastes, it wasn't meant for you; go away. But if you find yourself, not for the first time, overwhelmed, you will find a place here.

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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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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