Music

Andrew Pekler: Cue

Andrew Pekler crafts an album more notable for its form and function than for any statement of fashion or politic. The very idea that the record is free of statement is, in fact, its statement.


Andrew Pekler

Cue

Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: 2007-04-30
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To paraphrase John Cage, the artist is free to have nothing to say and to say it.

-- Cue press material

Andrew Pekler's Cue is a rather fascinating, attention-worthy piece of work for an unusual reason. In the span of 11 tracks, the Berlin-based artist/composer of electronic music crafts an album more notable for its form and function than for any statement of fashion or politic. The very idea that Pekler's record is free of statement is, in fact, its statement. And, according to promotional materials accompanying the album, that's exactly the way Pekler wanted it.

A highly informational brief used to place the album in context references library music albums, often utilized by producers of film and television in the selection of songs to add life and color to their movies, shows, and commercials. According to these writings, "consumers of library music were assumed to have little interest in the identities of the individuals who actually wrote and played the music" and "it appears that the functional aspects of the product were of foremost importance". The press material goes on to describe library albums' use of generic track names and added to those names "descriptions, durations and suggestions for…usage".

While not designed expressly for use by entertainment execs, Pekler's project directly recalls such predecessors. Each track is given in-depth description on the album jacket, and the record feels like a sum of individual parts rather than a seamless expression. The accompanying writing is quick to point out that Cue "is not an attempt to re-create, re-imagine, or re-contextualize library music of past eras", but is instead a chance for Pekler to work within the "same constraints" that have guided those who have traditionally produced it.

The role Pekler casts for himself as the unseen artisan both works for and against him here. On one hand, the lack of detail given about emotional and/or thematic inspiration allows Pekler to create a sense of mystery and subtle drama that infuses the material on Cue; listeners are more readily encouraged to use Pekler's music as soundtrack to their individualized mental pictures, much as directors and producers might use library music as the soundtrack to their moving pictures.

Additionally, Pekler is able to base his work on repetition and minimalism, often giving tracks an initial simplicity which allows them to grow and expand without a dramatic shift in attitude or tone. When Cue is at its best, Pekler is able to weave together similar musical threads that, in tandem, are more dynamic than when experienced alone. Arguably the album's best track, "Dim Star" (explained as "slow, ominous piano motif drifting into swirling atmosphere"), is the result of combining an understated, pulsing bass line with insistent, moody piano figures and allowing that combination to gradually work together to establish momentum and groove. Other outstanding tracks include "Rockslide" (Pekler labels this track as "nostalgic mid-tempo pathos for widescreen drama"), which fades in with white noise and gains color from the shifting of pitch and rhythmic throb, and "Dust Mite" (described as "towards the incomprehensible, microscopic danger, harmonic feedback"), which feels fresh, experimental, and a throwback all at the same time.

While the emphasis of form and element is interesting conceptually and sets Pekler's work apart as distinctive, it can also cause parts of the album to come across as mechanical. The trick to producing an outstanding record in this genre is to balance the manifestation of electronic sound with enough lifeblood, enough human sentiment, to keep the music from sounding overly utilitarian. No matter his intent or purpose, oftentimes Pekler simply falls short in this regard. Opening track "On" is harsh in timbre and at six and a half minutes probably pushes the listener a couple of minutes too long; closer "Floating Tone", whose descriptor reads "slow-building one note theme for end credits, frozen fuzz guitar + warm accompaniment", is also a tough listen. Other tracks like "Pensive Boogie" and "Steady State" imbue just barely enough feeling and variation to keep them from seeming overly mechanized.

An understanding of Pekler's purposes will aid some listeners but may cause others to feel disoriented in experiencing the thematic disconnect which exists between tracks. Cue is not for the casual electronica fan or the listener who approaches the project with a sense of informality. However, for someone willing to work for their reward, Cue is an experience somewhat akin to observing an award-winning science experiment: It gives the opportunity to see hypothesis filtered through variables and controls and carried to a logical end.

6

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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