Music

Animal Collective (Featuring Vashti Bunyan): Prospect Hummer

Richard T. Williams

Hardly even a small step in Animal Collective's evolution, Prospect Hummer offers more of the same, only this time with a songbird amongst all the panda bears and rabbits.


Animal Collective

Prospect Hummer

Contributors: (featuring Vashti Bunyan)
Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2005-05-31
UK Release Date: 2005-05-16
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When musical artists are creatively on fire, they tend to increase their output, much of which makes for essential listening. After all, passions and energies at such inspired times can react and combust, with each subsequent sampling promising to catch lightning in a bottle -- a snapshot of the creative process that may otherwise be too breathtakingly frenetic to follow. Animal Collective's new four-song EP then is a great disappointment, as it is far too restrained to be the monumental step forward that the band is primed to take. After the breakthrough of last year's original and acclaimed Sung Tongs which refined and melodicized the Collective's initial approach, Prospect Hummer insinuates that they may not actually have any new tricks to perform.

For many fans, this may not be a problem. Any band that has cultivated its own unique sound is going to be pigeonholed by the legacy of that sound. No matter what Animal Collective attempt to accomplish next, a large portion of their fans are going to be clamoring for Sung Tongs II. With Prospect Hummer, the band (knowingly?) sidesteps such expectations by taking a backseat on a recording for which they still receive top billing. The actual star here is Vashti Bunyan, a cult folk singer from the UK who hasn't recorded in 35 years -- one of the great "almost-was" artists of the '60s.

And Bunyan does sound like a folk singer, all wispy and unrefined, at times precious and occasionally lovely. Once hailed as "the next Marianne Faithfull", her voice actually fits perfectly into the hippie Americana side of Animal Collective's sound, if not the sonically exploratory side. But although the Collective have found a collaborator perfectly suited to one aspect of their sound, they may have placed a robin's egg into a cardinal's nest. Despite the appropriate environment for it and the right amount of nurturing, the egg will simply not hatch into a baby cardinal.

"It's You" begins immediately with Bunyan's airy quiver. She's certainly of the chanteuse variety, and has a bit too much air in her voice. But air is not a problem for Animal Collective, and they respond with the telltale harp-like guitar strums and choral backing vocals that are so distinctive to their sound. The song is pretty, but slight. After two minutes, Bunyan ascends to her higher register, which she should have attempted more often. The band continues to complement her well, as they give her shaky voice plenty of space to fill.

As if to illustrate this more deliberately, the title track of the EP begins with all the exciting features that Animal Collective seem to have left behind (percussion, bouncy rhythm, and vocalizations of a somewhat tribal Native American descent, all bound by studio wizardry) and then abruptly cuts them out of the mix by the two-minute mark. Bunyan is then left floundering in too much space. Cute lyrics, mostly about a cat, and a chorus of "whoa whoa whoas" -- oddly reminiscent of the aboriginal politicking of Midnight Oil channeling the denouement of "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- do not save the song from falling apart. The Collective usually has a remarkable talent for arranging complicated and contradicting elements into the same piece, but here they seem afraid to tackle Bunyan's voice. Though it may have ultimately been a wise decision -- Bunyan drowns when crowded -- the song sounds unfinished. If they had kept up the powerful flourishes throughout, the band may have created a memorable piece.

The Bunyan-less third track ("Baleen Sample") is basically an Animal Collective B-side, similar to the more pastoral moments of Sung Tongs or the collection of unfinished backing tracks on Campfire Songs. It typically couples more harp-like strumming with geological ambience to approximate a new age thunderstorm. Some day a major label will get a hold of the band and turn them into the next generation's Enya. All in all, the entire EP is not a far cry from such a fate.

Thirty seconds of lone ticking sounds open the final number, when Bunyan's double-tracked voice descends from the heavens and makes its strongest impression. Her self-harmonies are beautiful, and her voice is especially striking again when it hits the high notes. Otherwise, "I Remember Learning How to Dive" fosters the simplest folk-song base at its core, oddly leaving the track with the least amount of aural thrill to make the most immediate impact.

For a band who has earned all sorts of acclaim within the fan bases of avant-pop and electronic music, Prospect Hummer is instead a disappointing concession to Animal Collective's newfound status as indie hot kids. If anything, it's an appropriate way to make a folk record in 2005, and a solid attempt at resuscitating a long dormant career. But Ms. Bunyan will require a team of edgy, accomplished artists to prop her up for the duration of her upcoming long-player. Fans of unassuming indie singer-songwriter music and semi-textured Americana like the Microphones or Devendra Banhart will find much to like on Prospect Hummer; fans of Animal Collective and their weird psychedelic cacophonous environmental campfire music may need to hold out for the next release to be wowed and dazzled, as there is no lightning in this particular bottle.

5

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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