Music

Billy Stoner: Billy Stoner

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Lost outlaw country classic gets a second chance at the long-overdue critical praise it so richly deserves.


Billy Stoner

Billy Stoner

Label: Team Love
US Release Date: 2017-06-16
UK Release Date: 2017-06-16
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For every critical and commercial success, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of artists and albums equally worthy of consideration who slip through the cracks, finding favor with only a select few along the way. With any luck, however, these select few will find themselves vindicated when a modern label comes along to rescue said album or artist from the dustbin of history. Given the reissue-mad culture in which we are currently finding ourselves, it seems some newly uncovered lost classic or underappreciated masterpiece is released each and every week. And while most are gross overestimations of an album’s worth in hopes of finding favor in the rabid collector market hell-bent on finding the latest and greatest of the ill-fated, there are occasional releases that truly merit further attention beyond the PR hype required to get any sort of notice in an increasingly crowded market.

Founded by Conor Oberst and Nate Krenkel in 2003, Team Love Records is the latest unlikely entrant on the reissue/rediscovery scene after more than a decade of releasing a mixture of indie pop and singer-songwriter fare from the likes of Tilly and the Wall and David Dondero. Having undertaken a curatorial approach with the release of a handful of material from Jemima James, they continue to excavate the lesser known corners of 20th century American music with the release of Billy Stoner’s self-titled, 1980 album. As is often the case with these types of undertakings, Billy Stoner has direct ties to the aforementioned James, making this part of a rabbit hole of sorts down which the Team Love team seems keen on exploring to its fullest extent.

Recorded in 1980 at Longview Farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, Billy Stoner’s roots are about as far from the New England environs in which it was recorded as one can get. Born in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, Stoner eventually made his way to Texas at a time when the outlaw country scene was beginning to offer a viable alternative to the Nashville assembly line. Playing in a handful of outlaw and progressive country groups throughout the 1970s – in addition to spending plenty of time in that most country music of careers as a long-haul truck driver – Stoner began to make a name for himself. And while this ultimately never amounted to much more than this album, it nonetheless serves as a time capsule for an era of country music that served as a truer link between past and present than anything Nashville was producing at the time.

With a gruff, whiskey-and-cigarettes-soaked voice pitched somewhere between Waylon Jennings and John Prine, Stoner inhabits the grand Texas tradition of the outlaw troubadour. From the self-mythologizing in the autobiographical “Lookout Mountain” to the straight-ahead outlaw country of “Honky Tonk Fever", Stoner checks all the requisite boxes for underappreciated songwriters in need of a critical reassessment. Relying on a no-frills, ramshackle group of backing musicians, Billy Stoner has a loose, lived-in quality that enlivens Stoner’s tales of long-haul truckers, outlaws and morally ambiguous men and women just trying to make their way in the world. Indeed, “Lordy Lordy” is very nearly as good as anything Jennings, Prine or even Willie Nelson recorded around the same time, a lost shoulda-been-hit ripe for rediscovery.

“Benny’s Tune” follows the ill-fated career of a would-be country star who strikes out for Nashville only to be, like so many, turned away, succumbing to his own demons. It’s a bittersweet song of a life lived well but short of fulfilling its potential that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-‘70s Tom Waits album, Stoner’s voice a phlegmatic growl. At a short nine songs, Billy Stoner is a relatively slight slice of outlaw country from the tail end of the genre’s heyday. But thanks to the folks at Team Love, it’s one that has been rescued from obscurity and made available to the broader audience it so richly deserves. While not necessarily an overlooked masterpiece, Billy Stoner is nevertheless is a lost classic offering a massive question mark with regard to what might have been had it gotten its due when originally released. Look no further than closing track “If You Want the Candy” for the best outlaw country anthem very few have ever heard.

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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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