Music

Chumbawamba: The Boy Bands Have Won

Chumbawamba sing songs of change, but the new album is more of the same.


Chumbawamba

The Boy Bands Have Won

Label: PM Press
US Release Date: 2008-06-17
UK Release Date: 2008-03-03
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Mid-'90s alt-rock is overdue for considerable revisionism. In the what-the-hell-do-we-know aftermath of grunge, labels were clamoring for whatever next-big-thing could, if not rake in the Nirvana millions, at least keep the already sagging industry afloat for another week. The inadvertent result was the greatest array of one-off radio confections since New Wave’s peak. It was littered with yawn-inducing MOR bores, sure (Tonic, Marcy Playground), but also a stream of only-in-the-'90s ear candy, sometimes formulaic, often delightfully off-kilter. This was an era when the Butthole Surfers could top the rock radio chart, and when Fastball could go platinum and incur the ire of indie cognoscenti who would have loved Fastball 10 years prior or later.

And this was also the era when a decade-old British anarcho-punk outfit could score a fluke multi-format, MTV-approved smash, a drinking song ubiquitous at keggers and happy hours populated by the privileged on both sides of the pond. Such is the peculiar, precarious fate of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”, a controversial (at least among the band’s DIY purist fanbase) hit that was inescapable for nearly a year. But once the anything-goes bubble gave way to cock-waving nu-metal and unimaginative pop-punk, Chumbawamba returned to the margins alongside the groups and opinions they so proudly champion.

Anyone who hasn’t paid attention to Chumbawamba since 1998 -- that is to say, most of the world -- will be surprised, even slightly jarred, to hear the stripped-down folk songs they now traffic in. The Boy Bands Have Won features sounds and sentiments even more dated than its title. (Seriously, “boy bands” as embodiment of corporate fascism is a passé and foolish stance.) Take first single “Add Me”, a smug, nudging attack on online social networking sites. It’s a broad, demeaning character sketch of a basement-dwelling immature perv, the premise being that MySpace, Facebook, et al benefit only the basest, most predatory elements of human society. As such, the song is woefully out of touch, the uninformed critique of a grumpy old man whose only knowledge of such sites stems from sordid exposes in the Daily Mail.

“Add Me” is symptomatic of Boy Bands’ crippling weaknesses, and the assumptions that permeate too much musical agitprop: a self-righteous air of self-proclaimed moral superiority to less politically-minded pop music. “Sing About Love” is an unaccompanied three-part harmony lament over how Chumbawamba would like to record songs of romance and courtship, but there’s just too damned much injustice in the world to be bothered with trivial matters like getting laid and attaining personal happiness. But hey, when all that injustice is gone, then love songs will be something more than an irresponsible shirking of civic duty. Throughout Boy Bands, Chumbawamba repeatedly wags its collective finger at anyone who dares experience pleasure in such an oppressive world.

Chumbawamba seems to sincerely hope, if not actively think, that their music can change the world. That's ironic, since “Tubthumping” achieved a wider audience, the kind necessary to make any sort of cultural impact, than any of these songs will. “Words Can Save Us” is an indistinct mission statement, one that embodies the kind of folkie naivete that was successfully refuted when Dylan went electric. The verbose song-by-song liner notes, a Chumbawamba signature, often contain more words than the songs themselves, explanations of inspirations and causes and back stories that provide more judgment than context. Elsewhere, there’s a tribute to Bertolt Brecht, the obligatory Maggie-Thatcher-was-evil song (seems a bit petty, at this point) and a dig at “Bono and his friends” (some of whom have done more good than Chumbawamba ever will), followed by a hacky pun at the Edge’s expense. But nothing is quite as horrid as “Charlie”, an airy ballad that recasts Charles Darwin as some folk hero who traveled “Over the river and over the sea / Through holy storm and thunder” to “question the almighty”. Equating Charles Darwin with Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan is a silly affront to the man's achievements.

The album flows decently enough: 25-five tracks in under 50 minutes, with mostly spare, acoustic arrangements, some a capella, a few even based on traditional tunes. Many of the brief, minute to minute-and-a-half interludes feel like afterthoughts, songs too slight to make a statement, simple placeholders for the myriad ideas and points the band had neither time nor energy to flesh out or consider with nuance. And as with most folk music, the words are the point here (the cover makes that clear). The melodies are unobtrusive and unobjectionable, occasionally catchier than the band’s punk output. “El Fusillado” is almost fun, and “I Wish That They’d Sack Me” is almost gorgeous. But the cringeworthy moments, the various hypocrisies and pomposities, darken the bright spots, and the hollow, problematic pseudo-leftist rhetoric sticks in your gut far longer than even the most infectious hooks. There’s something touchingly antiquated about Chumbawamba’s defiance, but Boy Bands is too much lecture and not enough leisure.

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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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