Basement Jaxx have surely obtained a convert. I've never been a fan of electronica, but after the Basement Jaxx show, I have been struck by a new appreciation for the music. But regardless of my perceptions of the show after the fact, before I had the experience (and it was an experience more so than anything else) I was not sure where I stood on my ability to understand the music and culture that has captivated so many of my generation. So when I accepted the invitation to cover the Basement Jaxx concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC, it was with certain misgivings. Who am I to judge a show by a band I've never listened to which operates in a musical genre in which I have no reference? Fortunately for the rest of the techno-phobes out there I have gone to the dark side and come back. And my opinion on the music, the culture and the experience is that, at the very least, Basement Jaxx are the purveyors of something ancient, something new and something badly needed in a world that has been deprived of the beauty of ritualistic performances. First rule of this article: The performance and shared experience of electronica is not only helpful in gaining an appreciation for this type of music, for those of us clinging to rock and roll it is decidedly essential. Ugly Duckling, a hip-hop group from California opened for Basement Jaxx. They were vaguely appealing, though I think most of that has to do with the goofiness of their set and the whiteness of their skin. The highlight of their performance was when one of the MC's started making fun of hardcore/gangsta rappers and their postures, while the DJ played the Michael Jackson standard "Bad". But all in all, these guys were boring and uninspired. My hopes for the evening began to sink. After the boring Ugly Duckling set, Basement Jaxx made their appearance. The music was not mind blowing in of itself, but it captivated me when incorporated with the atmosphere that Basement Jaxx provided for the crowd. There were flashing clips from movies and commercials on the back wall, interspersed with pieces of graffiti and art. Dancers and singers ranging from good to horrible jumped on and off the stage. All of these things contributed to the idea that had been forming in my head about the meaning of all this craziness surrounding electronic music. But it wasn't until one of the members from Basement Jaxx jumped out from behind the mixing boards and started screaming and dancing with one of the dancers that the inkling of an idea turned into a full-fledged philosophy if not for all of techno than at least for Basement Jaxx: namely, these guys are descendents from a primitive form of music and ritual, the tribal gathering. Basement Jaxx are in all respects shamans, whipping the crowd into an ecstatic (not meaning that goddam white pill that everyone seems to need today) frenzy, calming them down and riling them back up again. This is what interests me because it seems like a ritualistic approach to this type of music is a perfect compliment to this type of music. It is based primarily on repetitive beats with other noises/music thrown in, while the crowd dances until they cannot stand. This type of music and the people who perform it are basically doing the same thing Native American shamans did to warriors before battle. With the dancers on stage rolling their eyes back in their heads, running around like their head is full of acid, and collapsing on the stage with the look of sheer exhaustion hanging around their heads, Basement Jaxx took on the role of leading this group of children looking for something that has been lost in the Judeo-Christian world. Basement Jaxx are on to something here. Something primal, something lost, something badly needed in this highly mechanized modern world. I doubt they have a full understanding of what they are giving the world, but regardless of their knowledge, it's a gift so precious that no one should turn down. They are connecting us with our primal past. They are pushing us back out to the borders and daring us to stay for the ride. They are attacking the cave wall and instead of simply drawing on it, they are banging an abstract engraving on it with their heads. And the irony of it all is that while they are pushing us back to a time when we looked for shamans to answer our questions about the world, they are doing it with the modern marvels that we all dream about. Basement Jaxx are destroying the boundaries between primal and modern by harkening back to the cave days with synthesizers and processor. Many of my previous conceptions of electronica were misinterpreted. I listen to folk music because I want to hear the words, but this is the wrong way to approach Basement Jaxx. Electronica needs to be seen, felt and experienced. It is not enough to simply listen to the music -- one has to be within the experience. It's a communal music, and Basement Jaxx act as the leaders of this gathering. They lead the way, they highlight the path, but the listener does the traveling. They can only show us where to go, but once we go there we understand the beauty of the music. It is simplistic and repetitive, but so is meditation and the rewards of both are a serious journey into our own primal roots. The performance that Basement Jaxx put on was inspired. The atmosphere that they provided was mind-blowing. The music was less than wonderful, but when mixed with the ritualistic/tribal feel that the concert had, it was perfect. If Basement Jaxx come to your town, do yourself a favor and pick up a ticket. Because this is the closest to being primal we will ever get in the civilized world. This is about seeing firsthand the power of music and the hypnotic effect of being fully drawn into a world you cannot even begin to understand. We're all trying to draw on cave-walls and leave our mark, but it appears Basement Jaxx are leading the revolution back to the cave.
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
Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.
20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)
Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta
19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)
Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller
18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)
Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr
17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)
The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr
16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)
BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta
It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.
Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.
Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.
Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.
There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.
There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."