The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

They inhabit an ideal world, located, a title helpfully informs you, on an isolated island off the Eastern Coast of the United States, 1986. They coo and cuddle, he coughs ominously, and they seem momentarily content, absorbed in one another. And then comes trouble.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Director: Rebecca Miller
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Keener, Camilla Belle, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Beau Bridges, Jason Lee, Jena Malone, Anna Mae Clinton
MPAA rating: R
Studio: IFC
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 1969-12-31 (Limited release)

"I put a spell on you, because you're mine." The familiar lyrics -- in a cover by Creedence Clearwater Revival -- buzz over poetic images of red flowers, blue sky, and busy bees. The first moments of The Ballad of Jack and Rose are simultaneously serene and odious, and the spell is unveiled both slowly and unmistakably. Skinny, rickety Jack (a frighteningly thin Daniel Day-Lewis) and lovely, ethereal Rose (Camilla Belle) lie on their backs and gaze up at the clouds above, determining what shapes they're taking. They inhabit an ideal world, located, a title helpfully informs you, on an isolated island off the "Eastern Coast of the United States, 1986." They coo and cuddle, he coughs ominously (see also: Camille), and they seem momentarily content, absorbed in one another. And then comes trouble.

Construction sounds off in the background remind Jack that their idyll is threatened, and so he runs off with his shotgun, Rose riding along in their ancient pickup, so she can watch as he shoots up the site, scattering the workers and so, stopping their work. Just as the scene seems cryptic, however, it also throws up the film's thematic concerns in plain view. As much as Jack and Rose appear self-sufficient (they produce their own food, don't own a TV, only occasionally venture "into town"), they also face an imminent end. Jack is afflicted by a wasting disease (his heart), Rose, so naïve and so sweet, will be alone. The construction site represents the incursion of "progress," the change that will come, no matter how much the father and daughter want to put it off.

Their relationship is made something of an awkward question during the film's first moments, as they seem too intimate, too wrapped up in one another. They spend a lot of time together. As is very soon clear, their home is what's left of a commune Jack lorded over during the '60s, and Rose is his most precious outcome, the "natural" child untainted by commercialism or greed or even, ostensibly, by curiosity. She's happy to have Jack take care of everything, so that she can wander through the sun-dappled fields in her gauzy peasant dresses and jeans, her long dark hair framing her lovely face. It helps immensely that all this is composed by the brilliant cinematographer Ellen Kuras, who also worked on Miller's previous feature, Personal Velocity, as well as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: here her camera alternately prowls and reels back, taking in all this fantastic, constant beauty and looking forward toward its inevitable, subtle end.

Lost in his own away amid the visual abundance, Jack's solution to what he perceives as his dilemma -- how to take care of Rose after he's gone (this leaves out that it's actually her dilemma, or will be) -- is to bring in another caretaker, namely, his recently acquired town-dwelling lover, Kathleen (Catherine Keener), along with her two sons (by different fathers -- she's also something of a free spirit), Thaddius (Paul Dano) and Rodney (Ryan McDonald). At Jack's invitation, the new family unit arrives on Jack and Rose's doorstep, throwing all their previous 18 years of unhurried sublimity into a deep hole of desperation and transformation.

The intrusion (at least in Rose's not-exactly-wide-open eyes) occasions all sorts of crises, not least being her own decision that her sexual deflowering is the best way to get back at hr father for his betrayal. She takes aim at the two boys, manifest vehicles, first the self-conscious, overweight, and hair-stylist in training Rodney, whom she approaches on their first night on the island, bestowing on him a look at her nubile naked torso; McDonald is wholly convincing as the frightened but also enticed and self-knowing boy, and for the few minutes he's in focus, the film seems poised to take flight. But these minutes are fleeting, and soon Rodney's left to the background, as the more self-absorbed, cynical, and patently angry-young-man Thaddius steps forward to fix Rose's attention and disrupt Jack's scheme.

This scheme is clumsy from its inception, of course, though his colluders -- especially Kathleen -- seem initially willing to go along. One reason is money. Jack has lots of it, apparently deriving from some inheritance, and regularly writes checks to get his way. Thus his seeming foundational ethos -- all open-sky and live-off-the-landish -- is suspect, only it takes Jack the entire movie to realize that he's more like the developer who so irks him, Marty (Beau Bridges), than unlike him. Marty has been trying to buy Jack's plot of "wetland" to incorporate into the tract that serves as Jack's repeated target, and so they stand off, repeatedly. Though they imagine they define "progress" differently, in fact, the film suggests, they are both possessive, destructive personalities, products of their masculine, perpetual prerogatives more than any particular ideology or era.

Rose fights back with girlish rage and ferocity, enduring passionless sex with Thaddius, using her dad's own memories against him (in the form of grainy, happy home movies of the commune days). But as wise as she seems, in her feral-childish way, Rose is also profoundly unknowing. While for Rodney, smitten in his way, this makes her reckless abuses of people seem a function of innocence, the film points out that she's more likely a function of Jack's sense of preciousness and ignorance. This leaves Rose without much recourse or responsibility, such that the movie turns ever inward.

And the film is precious in itself, off-putting and unresolved, less insightful than invested in its own eccentricities, making points that are more evident than it seems to think. This even as you admire its sporadic delicacy and ambition. This mix of obviousness and earnest effort reminds you also of Miller's tangle of relations, not only with her husband playing the dangerously naïve and difficult father, but also her own father, the late Arthur Miller. She resists reading too much into the connections, as this is a film she wrote initially 10 years ago, before she met Day-Lewis. And still, the connections shape art and reception. She tells Salon, "Whether we like it or not, we are connected to our parents, to their parents before them. We are part of a chain of human beings; we don't create ourselves. The idea that we can make a total break is an illusion. I think we all find that on some level we're continuing their work." If it's no total break, then, The Ballad of Jack and Rose continues.

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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