Books

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Even Dinosaurs B.C. Did It: 'The Dawn of the Deed'

Dr. Long integrates his scientific study of his team's "2008 hunt for the world's oldest vertebrate willy" with a diligent account of insect, reptile, amphibian, fish, dinosaur, mammal, primate and eventually, human stimulation, copulation, and fertilization.


The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex

Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Length: 296 pages
Author: John A. Long
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-11
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The title lured me in, and the subtitle, "The Prehistoric Origins of Sex", seduced me. Alas, as with an an alluring dress that cloaks a bony body, when I received this title to review, I opened the package to find a surprise. Two dinosaurs, their offending parts with a black bar across their midsections, graced the cover. Opening the book, I learned that it dealt not with the pecadillos of our randy ancestors, nor the lurid rites gleaned from centuries of anthropological adventure, but that it detailed the genitals and mating mechanisms of arthopods, tetrapods, and most of all placoderms -- extinct armored fishes.

John A. Long, an Australian paleontologist and naturalist, tells his data-rich tale with verve and aplomb. He integrates his scientific study of his team's "2008 hunt for the world's oldest vertebrate willy" with a diligent account of insect, reptile, amphibian, fish, dinosaur, mammal, primate and eventually, human stimulation, copulation, and fertilization. His discovery of the earliest evidence for an embryo placed within a female by copulation, rather than egg-laying or another method, shows that 380 million years ago, a bony cartilage tube extended from a male placoderm fish. This, inserted into the large cloacal cavity of the female, then grew more. After four to five minutes, the team calculates, the seminal transfer took place; up to three hundred embryos, Long reminds us, have been found in a later pregnant female equivalent. This safe womb enabled protection of the young from predators.

The ancient results, a fossilized umbilical cord wrapped around an embryonic fish, proved that seminal transfer had occurred successfully for the first time. Verifying internal fertilization, given the rarity of tissue and the predominance of calcified remains of such evidence, presented a challenge for Long and his colleagues. This documented leap to sexual intercourse began the pattern followed by 99.9 percent of creatures (larger than bacteria) today.

While sexual reproduction began between 1.78 and 1.68 million years ago, it took time to evolve into more sophisticated methods such as the placoderm demonstrates. Pleasure may be implied if not proven until studies of later animals, birds, and insects--which Long gleefully recounts. Two reasons favor sex. It allows a quicker adaptation to environmental changes, and it diminishes "accumulation of deleterious mutations" in an organism's genes.

Chapters in this brief, well-illustrated book tend to begin with current creatures and then regress to their primitive forebears, discussing their sexual proclivities and apparatus. Long keeps the pace lively, but as in the "willy" phrase, such casual prose can be followed, two paragraphs later, by a few sentences embedding "elongated basysterygium", "holocephalans", "arthrodires", "ptyctodontids", and "phyllolepid placoderms", in turn. So, this narrative, despite the publisher's enticing promotion, may daunt those picking this up for a casual evening's entertainment.

Well-chosen colophons and citations from Darwin, T.S. Eliot, and Shelley mingle alongside nods to Bukowski, Warhol, and Zappa. Even The Bloodhound Gang (lyric ranked #49 on the list of 100 worst, Long duly annotates) gets a shout-out. Long shows how his researchers also furthered pop culture by the first animated paleo-porn-- to explain how the placoderms did it.

When it comes to us, however, I felt let down. Long summarizes in bite-size paragraphs intriguing findings on human sexuality near the conclusion of his presentation. We find out that the "clasper" anchoring a shark's penis inside its mate led in the building blocks of "Hox" genes to our own bifurcated legs and equipment, but the casual way that this crowning moment of evolutionary solidarity, traceable down to us after millions of years, is transmitted, leaves it anticlimactic.

"Sperm competition" among what scholars diplomatically classify as "extra-pair" copulations (i.e., in which at least one of the partners report action on the side at the same time) presents another related issue that needed more elaboration. Similarly, in latter sections Long's writing lacks transitions and connections to previous chapters, asserting what has been verified about primate sex, and why or why not these findings can help humans figure out our own sexual proclivities. For all its inherent interest, these portions purportedly tying us back to other, earlier creatures, just languish.

As a come-on, this may stuff the stocking of a scientifically minded loved one neatly. For the less paleologically or biologically obsessed, it may resemble a blind date. Long labors long in a lifetime of love with fossil fish to capture the appeal of his research, but despite the catchy cosmetics, the book cover covers up a more sober, less giddy romp among our soaring, cawing, grunting, and soggy ancestors, than we might have hoped for.

5

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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