Music

Chavela Vargas: At Carnegie Hall

You might think that the people in this audience are idiots for cheering at a raspy voice. You might prefer raw, bitey, old Vargas to young Vargas. You might not know what to think.


Chavela Vargas

At Carnegie Hall

Label: Tommy Boy
US Release Date: 2006-05-02
UK Release Date: 2006-04-25
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I love live recordings. I know there are people who don't. "That 1968 recording of Sutherland singing Lakmé?" they'll say. "The one that lets you know every single time the audience coughed or blew their noses? I nearly went mad. I buy an album to listen to the musicians, not the pack of talentless bastards watching them."

The members of the audience on At Carnegie Hall don't cough or blow their noses. They cheer. The album has barely begun before they start cheering. They whistle and clap and whoop. It's 58 seconds into the first track before we get to hear Chavela Vargas open her mouth. Forty seconds later the audience cheer again. And this is nothing compared to "Volver, Volver" when they go fully sick and start singing along as well. "Y Volver, volver, volver," they sing. "To return, to return, to return!" The song is ostensibly a lament over a lost lover, but they turn it into a celebration. Vargas drops out of one of the choruses and leaves it up to them and they find themselves singing the words alone and then they shout in delight! They're helping Chavela Vargas!

I've listened to the album a number of times now and I'm still not tired of that sing-along. It's one of those high moments at a concert when the musician and the audience are connected and everybody is thinking excitedly, "Listen to us! We really are wonderful."

Why the cheering, why the celebration? Well, Vargas is a bit of an octogenarian legend, and, not only are you not likely to get the chance to sing along with a legend, you're even less likely to get to sing along with one who's 84. She's old enough to have shagged Frida Kahlo. She's known for the passion of her singing. Once, according to rumour, she hurt her leg jumping out of a window for the love of a woman who wouldn't love her back. She wore men's clothes onstage and sang men's love songs to the women in the audience. A few years ago she came formally out of the closet, astonishing precisely no one. Her face in photographs is soft and fissured. In one picture she has her mouth open, her arms out, a red kerchief tied in a knot around her neck, and the background is coloured red. She's emoting with so much intensity that she looks like Dracula.

The sweetness of her younger voice has disappeared. It used to dip smoothly, now it creaks; and when she growls with feeling, it rasps. She sounds as if she's been drinking wet concrete and eating tin cans. She sounds like an old woman. She doesn't try to hide it, she doesn't try to seem young, she bellows like an old woman, she shouts like an old woman filled with gusto. A different 80-something singer might have you thinking, "Well now, bless the old dear, isn't it nice that she's keeping herself busy?" but Vargas is so fully wrapt in her age that there's nothing to patronise, although people who are used to the sound of her sweeter voice might be shocked at the change and feel unable to do anything but pity her.

The emotion that she used to put into her performances is still there however, and it's this that makes the album work. She can still do a killer "La Llorona". Her voice rolls down into a vale of tears and then begins to whisper and you have to be glad that microphones have been invented because the intimacy of this whisper is wonderful. "Ay!" she exclaims huskily in an undertone, "de mi Llorona, Llorona, Llorona!" Then without warning she's furious. "Si ya te he dado la vida, Llorona! Que mas quieres, quieres mas!" I've given you my life, Llorona, what more do you want? You want more!

Her next number gets the crowd laughing. The audience gives At Carnegie Hall a joyful energy, but their reactions are so overwhelming that they become yours as well. They don't give you the chance to feel your way through the songs on your own. This is an album for someone who wants to imagine what it was like to watch her in a very specific place, on a very specific night, and not for anyone who wants to sink into introspective Vargas-y contemplation.

For that you'd need one of her other albums. If you haven't heard her younger voice then it might be fun to get hold of a less recent one, just to make a comparison. You'll come back to At Carnegie Hall with completely new ears. "She used to sound like that?" You might think that the people in this audience are idiots for cheering at a broken voice. You might prefer raw, bitey, old Vargas to young Vargas. You might not know what to think. See? Fun.

7

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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