Reviews

Boomtown

Lesley Smith

By playing safe, they might just as easily be playing dead.


Boomtown

Airtime: Sundays, 10 pm EST
Cast: Gary Basaraba, Nina Garbiras, Jason Gedrick, Neal McDonough, Lana Parilla, Donnie Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson
Network: NBC
Creator: Graham Yost
Amazon

Boomtown, NBC's Sunday night post Law & Order: Criminal Intent programming, hit the TV screens recently as the latest contender in the "innovative drama" stakes.

Its particular stab at originality twists the ensemble crime drama into a multi-perspective view of a single crime. It draws in not only traditional crime-solvers like detectives, beat cops and DAs but also a journalist, a paramedic, the victims, and assorted ancillary characters with a part in the crime or its aftermath. Each episode cuts rapidly from one character's point-of-view to another's, creating a pace collage of multiple, interlocking viewpoints. a tactic uses to bring the audience more fully into the solving of every crime. On the series' website, creator Graham Yost, fresh from a highly successful stint on the writing team for Band of Brothers, claims, "Sometimes the best way to tell the whole story about something is not to try to tell the whole story, but to tell all the little stories and let the viewers put it together themselves." This might have been an inspiring creative statement, if only he and his collaborator, Jon Avnet, had managed to stick to it.

Yes, Boomtown does show the same crime from multiple points of view. And yes, this is a novelty. But, as with so many new dramas this season, one is tempted to murmur, "great cast, good characters, shame about the show," and rent a video from Blockbuster. On the up side, Yost and Avnet reunite Donnie Wahlberg (as Detective Joel Stevens) and Neal McDonough (as Deputy DA David Manors) from Band of Brothers. Both are stripped-down, physical actors, who use their somewhat similar bodies to convey the emotions their blankly attractive faces do not. For both, the dominant emotion in their characters' lives is control -- of political ambitions (McDonough), of private lives (both), of the investigations (Stevens) -- every new encounter silently faced with a pugilist's wariness and readiness to attack.

Thoughtful casting and fine acting also revive two cop show staples: the rookie and the worldly veteran sharing a patrol car, and the interracial detective team. Jason Gedrick (best known on TV as the amoral, stoned, unredeemable Neal Avalon in Murder One) brings a macho brittleness to patrolman Tom Trotter: he's chafing at working with the older man, but not yet ready to face the streets alone. Gary Basaraba turns in a pitch-perfect reiteration of the fatherly 20-year patrolman Ray Heckler, with a gripe against the brass. Mykelti Williamson brings such a loose-limbed joie de vivre to Detective Bobby Smith's partnership with Wahlberg that, like the cross-racial pairings of Bobby Hill and Renko, and La Rue and Washington on Hill Street Blues, it seems based not on a writer's desire for diversity but on a human empathy between characters.

That Yost and Avnet could convey this in the season opener's slightly less than fifty minutes suggests some of the creative energy that might have galvanized this show. Bobby Smith (nicknamed Fearless), for example, is an enchanting character. As the cops exchange tidbits of backstory, Smith at first seems too laid back, too easygoing ever to be interesting. But suddenly he's dressing in a motel room, with a beautiful woman still naked on the bed. Yost withholds who she is, without seeming to do so, while the two chat, primarily about whether or not he's a list man, the kind of guy who makes a list of all the exotic things he wants to do before he dies. So amiable is the conversation, that when she asks him if she'll see him again, his "No," really shocks. He says he couldn't afford it. She names her price: $600. Then he pays her, walks out into the motel forecourt, meets his partner and crosses "spend a night with a hooker" off his crumpled list.

It should have been corny, but because the writer and director took time to build nuance and ambiguity, we see an ordinary man fulfill an ordinary dream and share his extraordinary pleasure at his success. Though none of the other male characters yet shows Smith's potential, Yost captures the laconic, disjointed intimacy of male society well, perhaps because he has just left a writing team who encountered no female characters in ten episodes.

He fails utterly, however, to realize a single female protagonist. First of all, they're not part of the story: as a journalist and a paramedic, they attend the action without influencing it. Reporter Andrea Little (Nina Garbiras) is stock feisty glamour and little else: long dark hair, long legs, and great figure. We never see her byline. We never see her pounding a keyboard or meeting a deadline. But we do see her sparring with her lover, McDonough, and we do see him treating her with contempt. Paramedic Teresa Ortiz (Lana Parilla) is even sketchier. Her key part in the pilot is facilitating the revelation that Joel Stevens' wife had tried to commit suicide a few days earlier while in the second episode, she appears only momentarily as foil to a minor character who interferes in the chase.

Yet, while the fragility of female presence is a flaw in Boomtown, its potential for growth is far more stunted by the time-wasting mechanics of its much-heralded multiple points-of-view. The device for integrating these perspectives involves repeating key sequences at least twice, once through the eyes of the original character to view them, and once again, bleached out, slowed down, or otherwise tweaked, to indicate that the story has shifted back in time to be seen through another pair of eyes. And then sometimes all over again through another pair of eyes. As a visual signal, it's marginally appealing, once. As a plot device, it's cringe-inducing right from the start. As a story-buster, it's supreme. And it adds up to a lot of TV minutes stripped from storytelling and wasted on meaningless artifice.

This was particularly striking in the series' second episode, where a clever, fast-moving tale of fantasy, love, and fatal jealousy ran aground on multiple displays of the murder and a gratuitous achronological juggling of the storyline. Whatever happened to trusting an audience to know that a different camera angle means a different point of view?

Ironically, the use of a simple shift in camera angle achieved in Band of Brothers exactly what Yost claims to achieve in Boomtown. That company's eye view of the Allied invasion of Europe created from a jumble of fragmented, individual stories a moving history of the contribution of America's young men to the defeat of Hitler. There the action moved so quickly, and the characters looked so alike in their uniforms and helmets that the audience had no option but to construct its own narrative, much as the soldiers themselves did, as they trucked erratically from town to town across France and Germany.

Boomtown might have achieved the same by dropping the audience into the muddled heart of a murder investigation and leaving it there, especially as the show stands to inherit the viewers Vincent D'Onofrio's practiced malevolence has attracted to Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Instead, Yost, Avnet, and the network fell back on crime-solving-by-numbers and lowest-common-denominator narration. By playing safe, they might just as easily be playing dead.

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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