Blue Six: Beautiful Tomorrow

Andy Hermann

Blue Six

Beautiful Tomorrow

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2002-01-22

Since its first 12" release in 1999, San Francisco's Naked Music label has been at the forefront of a deep house revival that has brought legions of jaded old househeads back to the dance floor. On numerous compilations and mix collections, a broad array of Naked DJs, producers, and songwriters have presented a unified front of sexy, soulful grooves anchored by jazzy live instruments and seductive, diva-free vocals -- Miguel Migs, Mauricio Aviles, Atjazz, Lisa Shaw, and Blue Six, the alterego of Naked Music co-founder Jay Denes, to name a few.

All this success attracted the attention of Astralwerks, home label to Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers among others, which is now partnering with Naked Music as part of its ongoing quest for dance/electronica world domination. Happily, Astralwerks is throwing its promotional weight behind what may be Naked Music's best release to date, Blue Six's sublime debut album Beautiful Tomorrow. The first single-artist release from Naked Music, Beautiful Tomorrow clears up any doubt about who the brains behind the Naked sound has been all along. Jay Denes' Blue Six tracks are Naked Music distilled down to its essence, all bubbling basslines, catchy melodies, dreamy, melancholy vocals, and classic four-on-the-floor house beats that are irresistible without ever being overly aggressive. It's chillout music you can dance to -- or maybe dance music you can chill to.

What it's not is music for people with short attention spans. From the sleek soul vibe of the opening track, "Let's Do It Together", Denes establishes his core sound and sticks to it through most of the album. Songs unfold at a leisurely pace, typically clocking in at over six minutes, and sound so alike as to blend into one another, despite the fact that Denes rarely segues directly from one track to the next. This makes the album sound a little too smooth for its own good at first, but there's a depth to Denes' music that rewards repeat listenings.

Take the "Teksoul Dub" remix of Blue Six's classic "Music and Wine". Built around a very minimalist vocal sample and keyboard vamp from the original track, the remix layers in some subtly syncopated percussion, then blossoms into something at once jazzier and funkier with some nicely understated guitar and bass licks, a well-timed hi-hat and even a flute solo. Further listens reveal even more going on -- some spacey keyboards, a more fully fleshed out but heavily muted bassline. Denes is a master of building his arrangements in ways that are almost subliminal but more emotionally resonant that a hundred other, more hyperactive house tracks.

Beautiful Tomorrow's highlight is the another Blue Six track most househeads are familiar with, "Sweeter Love". Presented here as an eight-minute vocal house epic, this 1999 club hit manages to sound at once like latter-day disco and cutting-edge deep house, with a chorus catchier than anything on Top 40 radio, an irresistibly slinky bassline, and insoucient female vocals, this time courtesy of Lysa, ooh-oohing through that trademark heavily filtered Naked Music sound. You could question why Blue Six's oldest track is still their best, but I suspect age and quality in this case are directly related -- Denes has had nearly four years to tweak and refine "Sweeter Love", whereas equally groovy but less vital tracks, like the jazzy-soul spurned-love anthem "Close to Home" and the sweetly melancholy "Love Yourself" are new numbers that will probably fully reveal themselves in future remixes.

Elsewhere on Beautiful Tomorrow, Denes shows a nice touch with more downtempo numbers -- clearly he's not interested in limiting himself to dancefloor grooves, and he's got the talent to expand far beyond the house idiom. "All I Need" and "Very Good Friends", in particular, have a sophisticated phuture soul sound that preserves that seductive Naked Music vibe in a more laid-back, "back to mine" setting.

Although Blue Six is largely a one-man show, credit should also be given to Denes' collaborators, whose vocal and instrumental contributions give many of these tracks a spark that a lot of purely electronic and sample-based house has lacked in recent years. In particular, Denes' old partner and Naked Music co-founder Dave Boonshoft is the man laying down those tasty basslines, and so deserves huge props for the Blue Six sound. Then there's a whole busload of talented vocalists seductively delivering Denes' lyrics of loss, love and hope. Naked Music diva-in-residence Lisa Shaw (she of Lovetronic's "You Are Love" fame) is her typically luminous self on "Let's Do It Together", but her work is matched and maybe even exceeded by Aya's gorgeously restained work on "Love Yourself", and by Catherine Russell's multi-track crooning on "Very Good Friends", "Music and Wine", and the shimmering title track, which closes the album on a hopeful note.

Weak spots? Well, I've never been a fan of Blue Six's other big club hit, "Pure", but it's arguably what Denes is best-known for, so what do I know? I do think, though, that old Blue Six fans will be disappointed by the vocal version of "Music and Wine" that turns up here. Unlike the excellent Attaboy remix featured on Miguel Migs' Nude Dimensions Vol. 1, Denes' version of his own song features way too much syncopated percussion and overlapping vocals -- the song itself, which remains one of his best, loses its groove and gets lost in all the production. You could also argue that "Yeah" and "Grace (Freedom Dub)" are throwaway tracks, but that's getting pretty persnickety -- there are fourteen tracks and over seventy minutes of music here, and even when he's not at his best, Denes is still as good as any other deep house producer in the business.

He's so good, in fact, that calling Blue Six house music is probably too confining. Denes uses house beats, but really, in the way he combines joy and melancholy, regret and celebration, sometimes within the same lyric or same musical phrase, Denes is creating soul music, in its purest, most old-fashioned sense. "Used to get high just to pass the time / Music and wine were the only friends I had" is a line worthy of Otis Redding, and it's just one of many examples throughout the album of Denes' superior lyrical and songwriting chops. It's terrific to hear someone combining this bittersweet sensibility with modern dance music sounds, and reminding us that it's possible to make upbeat music that isn't mindlessly bouncy or simperingly feel-good. May Blue Six and Naked Music ride the Astralwerks giant to a little world domination of their own.

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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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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