Reviews

Andrew Bird

Eddie Ciminelli

Violin plucker and inspired indie songster Andrew Bird previews tunes from his upcoming Armchair Apocrypha LP.

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird

City: New York, NY
Venue: Bowery Ballroom
Date: 2007-01-17

People have a million reasons not to live in New York: the rent is too high, the streets are too dirty, and you have to lug groceries and baby carriages up and down the subway steps. But those of us who call this insane metropolis our home, whose endurance and patience are tested each and every time we walk out our front door, are rewarded with a wealth of culture. No matter who’s coming through town -- from Madonna to the Yankees -- everything is accessible. Except tonight; there doesn’t seem to be a single person in the greater New York area willing to part with tickets to see a violin player from the Midwest. Such is the strange success and appeal of Mr. Andrew Bird. During shows at the Bowery, the majority of the crowd usually mills around at the downstairs bar, chatting with friends and grabbing drinks while the opening bands sweat in a half-full room. But tonight, most in the audience are already upstairs jockeying for prime positioning, feverishly attempting to get as close as possible to the enigmatic headliner. The anticipation for Bird’s performance of new material from the upcoming Armchair Apocrypha is somewhat surprising. Though always treasured in the small circles who knew his work, Bird has spent most of his career outside the spotlight. Of course, his fame took flight when Righteous Babe released 2005’s gorgeous The Mysterious Production of Eggs, and, before long, word spread of unbelievable performances. Nobody has ever seen the same Andrew Bird show twice, because each is notable for its spontaneous recreation of songs -- not to mention the singer’s penchant for pitch-perfect whistling. Bird has always dipped his art in way too many colors to categorize, and tonight he goes to incredible lengths to avoid being pigeonholed. Dressed in a brown tweed sports coat and matching tie, the singer takes the stage alongside electronics virtuoso and percussion stud Martin Dosh and bassist Jeremy Ylvisake. His wily, manic hair in a mess, Bird resembles an eclectic university professor (as it turns out, that's exactly what he does during the day). A battalion of young women up front can’t control their excitement. Bird is part-hopeless romantic, part-passive world observer -- a prom king endorsed by drama clubs and marching bands all across America. Bird quietly breaks into the intro of “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” It’s a fan favorite and perfect introduction to the Bird-watching novice, but he can't seem to set his pedal tap properly. He starts over several times, attempting to properly loop the violin line that will form the foundation of the song. He mutters, “It doesn’t sound right” -- a complaint usually reserved for the cavernous New York venue Webster Hall and not the more reliable Bowery. His fans encourage him to soldier on, shouting validations of love and admiration. Bird ignores them until a woman screams, “Take off your shoes!” He takes a look down and smiles before kicking off one of his new shoes. Once he has a more organic connection with his equipment, the problem is quickly resolved, and the crowd begins to cheer and tease him about his socks. Finally, his hypnotic voice drops over the crowd: heads bop, feet tap, and everyone wears a smile. Throughout the rest of the song, his sampled whistle haunts the room, providing an eerie echo to the violin as he whispers bittersweet nothings. Bird pulls some songs from earlier records and a couple more from Mysterious Production, but the majority of the evening's material comes from the new album. And, it sounds amazing. Bird has grown up; with the addition of Dosh and Ylvisake, the songs are more full bodied than anything he’s done before. The added instrumentation isn’t distracting or overly complex -- Bird still utilizes his sample-based loops, and his voice and incongruent lyrics continue to remain the centerpiece. “Heretics” sees Bird making a woe-is-me list of sighing reflections as a looped violin teeter-totters through the song like a current. “Simple X,” a Dosh original, features a finger-picked intro and a ghostly whistle tag teamed with a rollicking drum machine-like gallop. The only complaint heard as the room clears is that he didn't play long enough. Nobody seems disappointed with the handful of familiar songs -- instead, most begin sharing their excitement about the new album. After the show, Bird makes his rounds downstairs, appearing humbled and touched by each fan's response. Tonight a violin player from Chicago is the toast of New York, anointed by fans who predicted his success long ago. Be prepared -- 2007 marks the year we will rediscover our love affair with whistling while the rest of the world discovers Professor Andrew Bird.

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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