Music

Beat Happening: Dreamy

Brian James

Beat Happening

Dreamy

Label: K
US Release Date: 2004-05-04
UK Release Date: 2004-05-10
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Despite having a vastly overrated body of work, Nirvana did pull off one feat for which they deserve what the young 'uns would call "mad props" -- they helped introduce a generation of listeners to college rock bands that had labored in relative anonymity for the past decade or so. In much the same way that R.E.M. was able to teach some of its devotees about Southern power-pop touchstones like the dB's and Let's Active, Kurt Cobain's constant desire to name-check his heroes meant that his popularity became a conduit through which underground bands like Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies, the Meat Puppets, Half Japanese, the Vaselines, the Raincoats, the Melvins, and Sonic Youth flowed into previously mainstream music collections. Another group that could populate that list is Beat Happening. That they stopped making albums the year after Nevermind seems indicative of their indifference to riding anyone's coattails or even becoming popular at all. Beat Happening seemed determined to play by no one's rules other than their own, and in an indie rock crowd that's not in any danger of relaxing its guidelines about interaction with the so-called corporate music industry, this little band from Olympia has become legendary.

But the mindset that judges bands by their business choices is beyond tiresome. It has unfairly knocked supposed sellouts (Camper Van Beethoven, the Replacements) and elevated those with little talent for anything beyond turning down record deals (take your pick). With Beat Happening, it's not that they don't deserve to be canonized for being fiercely independent. It's that their art is cheapened by such praise. The reissues of their albums give us a chance to hear them again (or for the first time, since for a while, these records have only been available on their pricey box set, Crashing Through) and judge how well they stand up a decade or two down the line.

As for Dreamy, their second-to-last effort unless more are forthcoming, the results are almost entirely good. Beat Happening had started out rotating guitar, drum, and vocal duties among its three first-name-only members, Calvin, Heather, and Bret. This was inspired by Jad Fair, but none of them had any particular expertise at a given position, so practical reasons equaled the theoretical ones. But by the time they got to Dreamy, their fourth album, they were all good enough at each that they could make a consistently good noise while adhering to their original premise. A good thing, too, because Beat Happening's maturation beyond their childlike beginnings was further complicated by the tension between Calvin's basso profundo and Heather's sweeter turns at the mic. Beyond the differences in their ranges, Calvin and Heather sketch out the band's split identity in the same way Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley do in Yo La Tengo. On Dreamy, Calvin stakes out a chunk of the same sinister territory he made his hallmark with the band's previous record, Black Candy, but it's his overlap with Heather's naivete that really makes things interesting. The creepiness of "Revolution Come and Gone" isn't allowed a divorce from his or Heather's gentler fare; it's all by the same band on the same album, and the tension generated by their cohabitation is far more interesting than either regressions back to childhood or an aversion to major labels.

However, this as well as much other praise of Beat Happening tends to be too doctrinaire. Regardless of how much it sometimes helps, great philosophy doesn't make great albums. Great songs are the stuff that does it, and though the writing on Dreamy hits a high-water mark along with Jamboree and You Turn Me On, the band's primitive approach still limits as well as liberates in this department. Indeed, the major strike against the album and the band as a whole is how much it hearkens back to an era in indie rock rife with experiments in primitivism and sonic shock and awe that produced a much-deserved burnout in the mid-'90s. But again, Beat Happening deserves to be judged on its own merits, and these three artists' ability to work up catchy melodies and smart arrangements carry the day against their limited technical skill. And sure, Dreamy has a solid handful of moments that make you wish they had bothered to take a few more music lessons along the way, but they're easily outweighed by instances that make you wish the rest of the world's musicians had been wise enough to take a few less.

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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