Music

Buck 65: This Right Here Is Buck 65

Robert Wheaton

More than bringing together backpacker beats and Woody Guthrie covers, Buck 65 is reading a whole tradition of American story-telling through the prism of hip-hop.


Buck 65

This Right Here Is Buck 65

Label: V2
US Release Date: 2005-01-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Warner signed Canadian hip-hop artist Buck 65 in 2002, after he had enjoyed several years of relative success on the underground hip-hop circuit -- including a run of favored albums, a consistent touring schedule, and close ties with Oakland's Anticon collective. There was also, presumably, a calculation by Warner that he might mature into a songwriter with the reach and long-term marketability of Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits.

The first part of that calculation was immediately vindicated: Square and Talkin' Honky Blues, his Warner releases to date, have exhibited a fully-developed story-telling talent. Talkin' Honky Blues, in particular, picked up more new listeners than it alienated backpackers with its live instruments and folk- and country-influenced range of sounds.

This Right Here Is Buck 65 -- on the V2 label -- seems calculated to address the second part of that calculation: to break Buck 65 to the American market. It is a compilation of several tracks from Talkin' Honky Blues and Square, a handful of material available only as b-sides and online exclusives, and reworkings of older material in his current style. Although it lacks -- narrowly -- the thematic coherence that made Talkin' Honky Blues a masterpiece, this is quite certainly an essential release by an artist that seems likely, if there is any justice at all, to spend much of his career reshaping popular music. He's just that good.

Buck 65, whose real name is Richard Terfry, hails from rural Nova Scotia. His off-kilter reading of hip-hop tradition has been on display since the early '90s, and was made explicit on his first solo LP, Language Arts, released in 1997. Subsequent releases and collaborations (particularly with fellow Canadian Anticon associate Sixtoo) have always foregrounded an essential restlessness, which at least seems borne out by a handful of off-beat biographical details: a flirtation with professional baseball, an appearance on Sesame Street, and a temporary residence in Paris.

That restlessness shouldn't suggest a diffuse talent, though, or a willingness to flirt with different influences and textures without integrating any of them fully. Terfry's various story-telling influences -- including Waits, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac -- have by now been so thoroughly absorbed into a developed and individual style that it is next to impossible to pick them out. "Talking Fishing Blues" is a Guthrie cover, but it's no more than a tip of the hat: it fits seamlessly amid these tales of drunkenness, wit, escape, loss and self-assured élan.

"Wicked and Weird" openly references Cash, but its gleeful, freewheeling, associative ode to the open road recalls Waits. There is something of the same surreal stream-of-consciousness flow, the same cast of oddball characters drawn into half-chosen, half-forced situations. There's also some of David Lynch's talent for subliminally evocative imagery, but even here, at his most surreal, Terfry's eye for detail -- "Cough drops, loose change in the beverage holder"; "5 o'clock shadow, lips like mudflaps / Hands like eagle's talons, eyes like hub caps" -- is precise and accurate in a manner undeniably his own.

There's a perfect confidence to his writing, a confidence that allows a song as personal as "Roses and Bluejays" -- about his relationship with his father since his mother's death -- to be conducted entirely at the level of surface observations. The details themselves, and their juxtaposition, perfectly conjure a sense of drift and directionlessness, and, somehow, a deep-rooted belonging. The image of his father clearing snow with a flamethrower encapsulates a moment of rage, loneliness, of silent futility.

There's the humor, too: "463" opens with a rant about "the youth of today" that is both brilliant parody and an evocation of the scale and magic of childhood: "When I was a kid... The whole world was made of wood and smelled like gasoline / The days were at least twice as long and the grass was green".

The highlight is probably "Cries a Girl", which balances its soft-hearted and wistfully mournful narrative -- a girl whose life is ruined by rumors of incest -- with the hard-boiled and grandstanding frame of a tall tale.

It would be possible to pick charms endlessly from these songs -- and, indeed, from those omitted. None of Talkin' Honky Blues's "Riverbed" series is included here. The older songs are less studded with perfectly-drawn observations and precisely-framed images. But even they exhibit a startling density, from the hilarious braggadocio of "Centaur" and the melancholy "Bachelor of Science", through the wounded trust of "Pants on Fire". The changes in arrangement here suit the material: "Pants on Fire" trades the simple, dusty guitar throb of the original for a broader, washier, more diffuse treatment; different rhythmic eddies and undertows surround the lyrics, somehow making a familiar song again treacherous.

Terfry's voice is the most notable change from the originals: where it was nasal, hurried, and slightly unsure, it is now broad and gruff. The Waits influence is obvious, but it doesn't sound at all borrowed or unearned: sometimes it is dropped boxlike to hammer out rhymes; sometimes Terfry uncoils -- unfurls -- it with a great depth of control.

With the addition of guitars, pedal steel, harps, and various other live sounds to his lo-fi turntablism, Terfry has matured from a stark and original producer to a brilliantly evocative arranger. The broader palette serves his taste for kooky and transient Americana, not to mention the rustic and elegiac nostalgia that suits his more involved tales. There are some obviously commercial choices here: "463" ditches the hard-edged harpsichord riffs of the original in favor of a forceful guitar-led arrangement, presumably with an eye on American radio airplay. But the arrangement choices are always appropriate. A dreamy, hazy warmth envelops the loss and human waste of "Cries a Girl". "Craftsmanship" moves with a brisk, business-like motion through the description of a shoe-shiner's trade, but when the song's content becomes more obviously analogous -- "It ain't about the dollar or trying to go fast / Unless you take pride in what you're doin', you won't last" -- a simple electric piano figure broadens and slows the song's momentum. The plucked strings and reverb-drenched guitar that open "Roses and Bluejays" evoke a measured distance between father and son -- before organ stabs and clattering snareshots suggest an improvised and comfortable intimacy.

Then there's the bleary despair of "Out of Focus", the "Rawhide" echoes that bounce "Bandits" from verse to chorus. When the add-ons and rarities that round out this collection -- including hidden track "The Abandoned Cars of Inverness County" -- are of this quality, it seems futile to try to pick holes. Terfry shows no sign of slowing down: a sequel to Talkin' Honky Blues is due this year. His appeal isn't just in the wedding of hip-hop to the American folk tradition; other artists from Beck to Timbaland have taken respectable shots into that acoustic barrel. Buck 65 is doing something more ambitious: reading a tradition of American storytelling through hip-hop. The expansive, inclusive, digressive American voice that runs through Guthrie and Dylan (and stretches back to Whitman) doesn't sound out of place for a Canadian like Buck 65, any more than it did for Kerouac. Terfry has some of Mark Twain's frontier nostalgia (his concert tall tales about Pythagoras's fear of beanfields suggests a sure grasp of Twain's sense of humor). Where he takes this ambition next will be fascinating to hear. This release is a pretty good summary of what he's been up to so far.

9

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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