Music

Buried Bowie: 25 Deep Cuts

For all of the imagery that dominated the religiosity of Bowie  --  the fashion, the characters, the hairstyles --  what matters most are the songs. Here are 25 killer deep-cut Bowie originals, album by album.

Like everyone else, I listened to nothing but David Bowie in the days after hearing the news. The night Bowie died, I had felt a disturbance in the Force at 3 AM, saw the news via text, got out of bed, bereft, and put on Station to Station, knowing that no way in hell I was getting back to sleep. When rock heroes die, it always hurts. But Bowie hurt more, for several reasons, among them that he wasn't yet 70, that he was still creating so aggressively, and that we didn't know he was sick. But beyond those earthbound concerns, there was just something about David Bowie that made him seem more immortal than everyone else. My initial reaction when I heard that he died was confused incredulity: "What do you mean, David Bowie died? David Bowie doesn't die!"

At the time the news broke, I had spent the previous two days listening to Blackstar over and over. I had written something about the title song and its video for publication a few days earlier in which I mentioned how well Bowie was holding up, how intact his voice was, how captivating a performer he remained. When his death was announced, I felt weird for those assessments, but it's all true, even though he was days from death. And, of course, now that we know that Bowie knew he was dying when he wrote the album, listening to Blackstar is a strikingly different experience.

Nearly 40 years earlier, Bowie hit my radar when I was too young to get it. I remember watching that Bing Crosby Christmas special the night it aired in 1977 and thinking that Bowie was a woman. Around 1980, I had gathered the nascent knowledge that rock and roll music is the most important thing in the world, by which time Bowie had been through a decade of the shapeshifting that had made him the most influential rock figure of his era. For my generation, the entry point was Bowie as the lean, elegant, crooning statesmen of the New Romantics, the blonde lothario in double-breasted suits, all knees and elbows and quivering baritone, larger than life at Live Aid, where he debuted that "Dancing in the Streets" video with Mick Jagger, a bitchy rockgod strut-off.

What was mistaken for sexual tension in the video was really just two attention-drenched singers at the height of their fame competing for the title of transcontinental king and queen of '80s rock, and both Bowie and Jagger wanted both titles. It's easy to argue that Mick wanted it more, that Bowie had a much different attitude about fame. Fame gave you no tomorrow, Bowie once sang. He was wrong about that, as it turns out, and Bowie was, in reality, acutely interested in the fluctuations in his commercial and critical successes. But it's also true that, in many ways, Bowie often resided in a darker, more desperate place than Jagger. He came closer to falling apart, doubting his sanity, ravaged by cocaine, always preoccupied by death, by alienation, by dystopias of all sorts.

Which is why Bowie was so important to his fans. Not because he was dark -- or not solely because he was dark -- but because within the darkness he also offered a sense of connection and liberation. Yes, you're a rock and roll suicide, but "Oh no, love! You're not alone!" You've got your head all tangled up, but no matter who you've been, there is the possibility of transformation from whatever prevailing norms of gender or class or popularity you've known. Hot tramps everywhere, you can be like your dreams tonight. It was clear that one way or another, Bowie spoke to the entire world on non-squares. The glam kids, the punkers, the goths, the disco queens, the prog-rockers, the metalheads, the art-rock kooks, the stoners, the ladies, the gentlemen, the others: They all claimed Bowie as one of their own.

This transmutability was one of Bowie's greatest gifts -- he was impossible to box in or pin down, and as much as he turned to face the strange, he kept having hit after hit. Surely, no figure in rock history was able to reach such enormous commercial success through such a consistently challenging output of artistic boldness. Even when it came to Bowie's musicality, he couldn't be easily labelled. On one hand, just as Bowie told the tacky things that they looked divine, he was a hero to musicians who lacked conventional musical ability. Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, the snarling punkers -- they all loved Bowie because Bowie, too, found freedom in eccentricity and in not second-guessing himself based on popular or critical expectations.

Bowie himself was an unconventional musician: Detractors scoffed that he couldn't sing properly and that "Ziggy" couldn't actually play guitar after all. As a frontman, Bowie couldn't move like Jagger or play like Springsteen. He wasn't the perfect pop-song craftsman that McCartney was, and as a vocalist he lacked the operatic range of Freddie Mercury or the full-throttled power of Robert Plant. And yet Bowie had more musical range than them all. He was an incredible writer of gorgeous melodies and brilliantly crafted lyrics, all the more genius for their bucking of easy structures and progressions. He was a remarkable singer with an array of voices -- the brooding baritone, the vibrato-drenched croon, the baby-doll tenor, the nasal Englishman squawk, the yearning soul cry, the dancing falsetto -- and every vocal break and wobble was artfully, intuitively placed.

You want musical alacrity in the studio? Bowie produced The Stooges' Raw Power, Lou Reed's Transformer ("Walk on the Wild Side," "Satellite of Love"), Mott the Hoople's All the Young Dudes (and wrote the title hit), and his own Ziggy Stardust album all in the same year. Bowie composed songs like a mad scientist, favoring complex progressions combining chords from different keys and turning it all into something startling and beautiful. And Bowie was not only one of the great rock-guitar cultivators of all time, mentoring a steady stream of left-field six-string heroes, he was himself responsible for some of the most indelible guitar riffs, saxophone rides, and electronic tapestries on his records as a multi-instrumentalist and arranger.

This diversity and complexity is what made Bowie the ultimate rock star. He was at turns unrefined and a perfectionist. He dismissed fame and flamboyantly enjoyed adoration. He was studio obsessive who staged giant visual spectacles. He could be musically and vocally rough around the edges and elegantly complex. Sometimes he looked bizarre -- made of wax and with British orthodontia -- but grew increasingly handsome and always indelibly cool. He was at turns a trailblazer and a classicist. And, yes, he was an even split between swishing femininity and masculine force.

Still, for all of the imagery that dominated the religiosity of Bowie -- the fashion, the characters, the hairstyles -- what matters most are the songs, and Bowie's disciplined artistic drive and triumphant prolificacy as a songwriter have few peers. Yes, he's championed for pushing ahead, for his willingness to be challenging, for having Side 2 be nothing but ambient instrumentals, for being strenuously experimental in form and sound. But the songs had to be great. Oddly, people don't tend to mention Bowie when they rattle off that top tier of the Great Songwriters, but the Bowie catalog is deep and wide with astounding material, well beyond the hits. Here are 25 killer deep-cut Bowie originals, album by album.

 
"Love You Till Tuesday" from David Bowie (1967)

The cockney-style music-hall ballads full of ye olde Englishisms were never a great fit for Bowie, even though his self-titled debut contains some real weirdness like the cannibalism tune "We Are Hungry Men" and the grim Dickensian character sketch "Please Mr. Gravedigger". The best traditional pop number here is "Love You Till Tuesday", opening like a game-show theme and giving way to Victorian fauntleroy lyrics so ridiculous ("Who's that hiding in the apple tree/clinging to a branch?/Don't be afraid it's only me/hoping for a little romance") that Bowie himself couldn't stifle a laugh. The supercatchy songwriting is no joke, however, a reminder that Bowie was the most sincere ironist in rock and roll.

 
"Cygnet Committee" from Space Oddity (1969)

The title cut was the smash, but the oddly titled "Cygnet Committee" was where Bowie first demonstrated that he was capable of writing an epic and of working well beyond his years. In the song, Bowie rails gloriously against the empty promises of movements all around him, whether it's the pretenders with whom he's lost faith or rock platitudes like "love is all we need" and "kick out the jams." Whatever the targets of Bowie's apparent disappointment he turns into major affirmations of righteous selfhood in this stunning, moving masterwork of shifting narrative voices and melodic structures. At a prog-mented nine-and-a-half minutes, "Cygnet Committee" gradually builds through a rolling series of song fragments, culminating in a long, rambling, passionate final section, with Bowie sounding like Jean Valjean fending off punching tremolo guitars and declaring his opposition to... well, it's not entirely clear, but he emotes like his soul is at stake. "I want to believe!" and "I want to live!" he sings, a 22-year-old offering an early manifesto on a grand scale.

 
"The Width of a Circle" from The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

Bowie ventured into hard rock on The Man Who Sold the World, his third album of strikingly different styles in as many tries. "The Width of a Circle" is one that metalheads could get behind, a song that piledrives with the heavy guitar riffage and wailing vocals of Black Sabbath in the same fall that Sabbath's Paranoid was released. Bowie's first great guitar foil Mick Ronson has arrived, and he lays down some seriously wammy-drunk breaks over producer Tony Visconti's busy, burping bass lines. Halfway through, the song shifts into a scary heavy-blues chug as Bowie, already the cracked actor, seems to describe a ménage à trois among himself, God, and the Devil: "His nebulous body swayed above/His tongue swollen with devil's love/The snake and I/a venom high/I said, "Do it again, do it again!" Modern love gets him to the church on time.

 
"Quicksand" from Hunky Dory (1971)

From Bowie's first stone-cold classic, Hunky Dory, comes this rambling, lilting expression of existential agony. You can hear the Beatles influence all over it, and John Lennon's "Imagine" would be released just four months later. But instead of "Imagine there's no heaven", the 24-year-old Bowie offers a much bleaker assessment on the plight of man's spiritual uncertainty: "I'm tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien/Can't take my eyes from the great salvation of bullshit faith." Over Mick Ronson's stacked acoustic guitars (and gorgeous string arrangements) and future prog hero Rick Wakeman's piano, Bowie delivers a weary-sounding summation to our deepest questions: "Knowledge comes with death's release", a line that in 2016 resonates like never before.

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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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