Music

Bat For Lashes: Fur and Gold

Nominated for this year's Mercury Music Prize, the Lashes' debut takes the phrase "RILY: Tori Amos, Bjork" and works it into something just short of magical.


Bat For Lashes

Fur and Gold

Label: Caroline
US Release Date: 2007-07-31
UK Release Date: 2006-09-11
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The opening track, “Horse and I”, on Fur and Gold, the debut album of Britain's Natasha Khan, is the single most stunning pop track of 2007. Stealing a fast-paced two-tone harpsichord from Boys for Pele-era Tori Amos, Khan's ethereal voice is soon joined by a swelling string section, UFO sounds, and a military drum line. It may sound like a traffic jam of jarring ideas, but the whole thing works in truly majestic fashion. In other words, "Horse and I" is one of the greatest Bjork songs ever written.

It's been a good year for Bat For Lashes, who played a solid round of shows at this year's SXSW festival and then kicked off the summer by scoring a nomination for Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Prize, the single highest critical honor a British album can achieve in a given year. Not bad for a debut effort (especially one that's littered with mystical imagery). Part of the brilliance lies in the hands of co-producer David Kosten, whose indie-electronica project Faultline remains one of the most criminally underrated groups of the 21st century. His delicate melodic touch can be felt all over Fur and Gold, which is essentially an electronica album that lacks electronic instruments. It is from this organic base that Khan manages to deliver some delightfully original sounds.

Khan exists somewhere in the blurry divide between serious Bjork and crazed Tori Amos. Drawing from these influences, it constantly feels like any given song is about to veer off into wildly experimental/pretentious territory, yet they never do, largely because each track is subtly reigned in by Kosten's warm production. The gorgeous "Tahiti" could easily have been a pop song written by Thomas Newman: a flurry of autoharp chords fall gently over a brooding piano melody to create an emotional arc that is truly cinematic in nature. "What's a Girl to Do?" opens with drums that are ready to break open into a Motown girl-group chorus, but then are sharply diverted into a harp-driven Poe song, complete with sexy dry-mouthed monologues in place of verses. Each track is focused around a simple melody (that the Neptunes would kill to sample) slowly repeated as other elements gradually creep in. Nowhere is this more true than on the single "Prescilla", which wears the Amos-influence on its sleeve with full-on pride, ending up as a genuine left-field pop gem. In most cases, if a group displays their influences front and center, then it can either be simply derivative or, worse, a cheap imitation. Yet when said influences are brought forth with such daring confidence, the comparisons gradually fade away as the whole listening experience becomes an event in itself.

Unfortunately, there are a few notable missteps that keep this album from being a true classic. "Bat's Mouth" is underwhelming, particularly with its main melody line, which just isn't as memorable as the tracks that surround it. Another disappointment lies in the lyrical department: Khan's fairy-tale fantasies usually work well with the music, but sometimes they end up being more befuddling than poetic:

"The caves in our mouths are forest darkness

And the air in between is everflowing

And the rushing deliverance flies past

This shiny shiny teeth

And she is kind and he is free and full of knowing"

This is a case where the lyrics feel like they're being poetic for the sake of being poetic. Another entry in that contest is "Seal Jubilee", which comes across like a bad mix of PJ Harvey's guitar and Lisa Germano's infatuation with reverb. These non-distinctive moments ultimately pull the listener out of this magical world that Khan is trying so hard to sustain. The fact that she accomplishes this more often than not makes the missteps all the more frustrating.

Yet Khan still knows how to close a show with a bang. Playing like the exact inverse of the fast-paced album opener, Khan closes the set with a moody cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", making it sound like it's been recast by the producers of Celtic Woman. The whole thing works and, like any good cover song, Khan makes it her own, recontextualizing the Boss' hazy, leering verses into something of an oddball empowerment anthem, and it's achieved with a sense of quiet grace. Fur and Gold is not the greatest album of the 2007, but it's certainly the most breathtaking.

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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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