Reviews

By Season Five, It's Clear That 'Castle' Deserves a Wider Audience

One man's mission to make Castle relevant in a culture ready to move past episodic television. Mission impossible?


Castle

Creator: Andrew W. Marlowe
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas, Seamus Diver, Molly C. Quinn, Susan Sullivan, Tamala Jones
Length: 43 minutes per episode/1032 minutes total
Studio: Beacon Pictures, Experimental Pictures, ABC Studios
Year: 2013
Distributor: ABC
US Release date: 2013-09-10
UK Release Date: 2013-11-11
Amazon

I started watching Castle, an episodic TV show on ABC about cops, because Tom, a respected colleague and friend in “the biz”, understands films and TV shows at their most basic level: enjoyment, and he suggested I watch this show. If it’s a good time, Tom will like it. So I gave Castle a shot, despite my skepticism for the genre, channel, and subject matter, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall for the repetitious charms of Nathan Fillion & Co. Well, mostly.

What’s more amazing than my capitulation to the simple allures of Castle is who actually watches Castle. Tom, for one, is a mid-20s male, as am I. A few other contacts who I discovered like the show have matched that demographic, while my parents and other older sources -- who are more in line with the show’s stereotypical expectations -- aren’t sure what the show is about. Statistics don’t back this up. Castle is continually bested in the key 18-49 demographic by shows like The Voice and even Hawaii Five-O. These figures seem logical, considering the show’s now-ancient format, but I’m here to tell you they’re unjust and we’re going to fix it. How?

Hashtags. Yes, hashtags. Kids love hashtags, and what started as an exclusive property of the Twitter-sphere has crossed over to Facebook. They will soon take over the world. I mean, there’s nothing stopping new viewers from tuning in this September at the start of season six. Seasons 1-4 chronicled the budding romance between Detective Kate Beckett (StanaKatic) and Novelist Rick Castle (NathanFillion). There were a few developmental points and plenty of enjoyable episodes, but nothing you won’t be able to pick up within the first few episodes of season 5.

Castle and Beckett -- adorably nicknamed Caskett -- just embarked on their first night of fully-expressed passion in the first episode of Season 5, and it takes some time for the new couple to define their relationship. Many of the usual hijinks remain -- Beckett revisits her mother’s murder investigation, Castle is challenged as a parent, Ryan and Esposito get throwaway episodes devoted to their limited character arcs -- but what’s notable about Season 5 is how referential the show has become. Castle has always been ready to lightly spoof topical pop culture issues, such as the countless jokes about Fillion’s old show Firefly and his character’s poker game with fellow mystery writers James Patterson, Michael Connelly (TheLincolnLawyer), and Dennis Lehane. Yet Season 5 takes it to a whole other level.

I counted five direct homages and/or parodies in the fifth season of Castle, a monumental figure considering the show’s viewers rely on redundancy for enjoyment. The writers ease their way into it with a genre well-referenced by the show: science fiction. There’s been a murder at Comic-Con, or at least a convention that looks a lot like Comic-Con, and Beckett is called in to investigate. Castle is already there, signing copies of his first graphic novel, so he swings over to the bridge of a Star Trek-esque set where the body was found and begins interviewing the show’s old actors to try to find the killer. The episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William T. Riker from Star Trek: Next Generations. Formatting doesn’t allow for Frakes to leave much of a visual stamp on the episode, but a quick cameo from the director is sure to please aging fans of a show now popular again with a younger demo thanks to J.J. Abrams.

Next up, Castle takes on cinéma vérité via a musician who’s murdered during the filming of a documentary on his band. The videographers keep rolling, and we see the whole episode from the their viewpoint. It’s easy to imagine the show’s creators utilizing this gimmick simply to allow the affable Fillion to wink directly at the camera rather than slightly to the side of it. After these slight alterations, the show goes into full blown homage mode with a two-episode riff on Taken, a horror spoof of The Ring, and a surprisingly clever 100th anniversary episode honoring Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

The Taken episodes are touch-and-go, with plausibility and believability issues compounding Fillion’s own struggles to channel his character’s slightly unbelievable darker side. Yet Castle and Beckett playing the ying to the other’s yang regarding the paranormal is delightfully light, and the Hitchcockian celebration episode shows just enough self-awareness to make it go down easy.

The same could be said about the five-disc set’s bonus features. They don’t break anything down to its core and dissect it. They’re not here to expose secrets or dive into issues. They’re here for our entertainment, and they mostly do just that. There are deleted scenes on each disc along with a few audio commentaries, including Jonathan Frakes and Nathan Fillion talking over the aforementioned sci-fi episode. “Your Home Is Your Castle” walks us through the set design of Castle’s home among other fancy sets featured on the series.

“Martha’s Master Class” brings in Castle’s mom (Susan Sullivan) to walk us through her direction of the actors in the Rear Window homage. “Lot Cops”, though, takes the cake for most entertaining bonus feature. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever go through tactical military training and make a joke out of the whole process. It’s pretty well put together for something so few people will see, and both actors embody a perfect blend of their characters and themselves. Sure, there are jokes that don’t land, but the pros outweigh the cons here just as they do on the show.

There are plenty of minor issues to pick at in Castle. Beckett’s extended concern over her boyfriend’s commitment is as ridiculous as her worries about his demeanor. Because he’s charming and jokey suddenly she thinks he could never be man enough to open up to her? What about when your apartment blew up? Or you almost froze to death in that train car? Or Castle was framed for murder and had to break out of jail?

I understand the writers’ need to create conflict within the relationship, but inventing baseless claims isn’t the way to go. Castle works best as light entertainment with heavy doses of romance now and then . We -- and I mean all viewers, young and old -- want to laugh first and swoon second. If they remain focused on these two base principles -- and keep up the homages -- Castle could live on for another 100 episodes. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have a sudden infusion of young viewers...

6

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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