Music

The Appleseed Cast: Two Conversations

Patrick Schabe

The Appleseed Cast

Two Conversations

Label: Tiger Style
US Release Date: 2003-07-22
UK Release Date: 2003-07-14
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When the Appleseed Cast released their Low Level Owl discs (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) in 2001, critics perked up their ears and took notice. And for good reason. Here was a band that had seemed squarely within the emo genre suddenly bursting out of their mold into creative, dynamic directions. The Low Level Owl discs were filled with enough experimentation that for a time the Appleseed Cast was saddled with the weight of being called "the American Radiohead". Whether or not this was warranted, or fair to the Cast for that matter, it seemed as though the group was well on its way to transcending its comfortable spot as genre lackeys and making its own way into the darker waters of the indie rock oceans.

There was enough anticipation that after recording some excellent indie and emo rock, the Appleseed Cast gained the attention of the competition, leading the band to leave its home on Deep Elm and move on to the more expansive indie label, Tiger Style. Free of the all-too-emo association of Deep Elm, it seemed like a fair bet that the Cast would take the far-reaching sounds of Low Level Owl even further, perhaps even producing an album that would be truly vital.

Unfortunately, Two Conversations is not that album.

Rather than pushing its boundaries further, the Appleseed Cast seems to have regrouped back in its old strongholds. The results aren't bad -- in fact, Two Conversations is an easily enjoyable disc -- they're just a little … underwhelming (to borrow a phrase from Sloan). The first time I listened to this disc, I kept waiting for that moment, that point at which the record would take off and explode. When it didn't happen, when the disc finally came to a stop, I was surprised and, well, yes, a bit disappointed. However, returning to the songs a few more times, it began to make more and more sense.

Where Low Level Owl was concerned, a lot of the overly simplistic association that reviewers made to Radiohead had to do with the sudden shift from emo rock guitar songs to tracks that were filled with electronic ambience. Short soundscapes filled with keyboard washes followed by sprawling epics heavy with prog and space rock drenched tones. Bursts of tension that matched the plaintive emotions of vocalist Christopher Crisci's voice. Long, winding guitar parts and thundering drums that approached the complexity of math rock. These things made those two discs ambitious and even grandiose, but also immediately vulnerable to charges of being overly derivative. There's not much credibility in being an imitator.

So, rather than continue to stand in the more popular and critically acclaimed band's shadow, you decide to return to your roots and find your own voice? Hard to argue with that.

In its own right, Two Conversations continues to prove that the Appleseed Cast will explore new territory, even if it's not always so distant and challenging as the Low Level Owl series. This time out, it's a decided slow-core element that gets highlighted. Sparse arrangements, wide open piano lines, and plodding beats are the anchors between the songs on this disc, and for a band like the Appleseed Cast, it works. And, in a way that certainly does connect back to their past efforts, Two Conversations has a distinct continuity that ties the album together. The first song, "Hello Dearest Love", begins with a long, floating piano piece that doesn't erupt into a guitar rock song until two minutes in. It echoes the continuing disintegration of the last song, "A Dream for Us", which finds a very similar piano tune and slowly sheds its instrumental skin until it become nothing more than a dirge beat and simple piano chords. Other tricks include the lyrics to "Hello Dearest Love", which ends with Crisci repeating the last line, "A stripe on fire", twice, then the song clearly ends, only to have the next track, "Hanging Marionettes", begin with that same line.

But little hooks of continuity can't hide the fact that there's still something like a step backwards to this album. It would be a little ridiculous to expect an emo band to completely shed its associations with its original scene, and Two Conversations sees the familiar lyrical props of stars, autumn, and the ocean pop up, as well as some broken-hearted emoting (although "Fight Song" makes this worthwhile rather than cringe-worthy), but they're gratefully not the whole show. At times, the sound has a very familiar feel as well, although this might have as much to do with the fact that, in spite of moving from Deep Elm to Tiger Style, the Appleseed Cast has decided to continue its working relationship with emo super-producer Ed Rose. As with the lyrics, the sounds that seem the standard fare of emo bands don't make up the whole disc, and there's enough variety to make it forgivable, it just seems a bit unnecessary.

Despite the fact that Two Conversations doesn't quite live up to the promise of its predecessors, it's a solid, well-written, well-performed, and well-produced album. Any band would be proud of the disc, and the Appleseed Cast should be. I can respect, as well, that a band wouldn't want to continue emulating the stylistic directions of their more well-known peers. Two Conversations is certainly not going to be confused with Hail to the Thief. But for the Appleseed Cast to take things to the next level, to really produce music that is their own but accessible and possibly even vital, I think they're going to need to find something akin to the shifting, intelligent, and melodically complex music found on older songs like "Steps and Numbers", and then take that into new territory. Two Conversations is a comparatively conservative approach. Still strong, yes, and still enjoyable to fans old and new, but not The One. However, one thing is certain: the promise is still there.

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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