Coburn: Coburn

Five minutes of listening makes it perfectly clear that, at least for this album, Coburn has left house behind.



Contributors: Solid State, Princess Superstar, Heidrun, Dean Van Jones
Label: Great Stuff
US Release Date: 2007-06-25
UK Release Date: 2007-10-29

Now that Coburn has released its debut self-titled full-length on Great Stuff Records, it suddenly seems unfair to lump them into the house scene with which they have been associated since taking that scene by storm with the incredible "We Interrupt this Programme" in 2005. It would be tough enough, based on timing alone, to call a 19-track, 49-minute album a house album, by virtue of the length of the typical house track, but even ten minutes -- hell, five minutes of actual listening would make it perfectly clear that, at least for this album, Coburn has left house behind.

The style that Coburn has adopted, then, is a still-danceable sound that could only be called "pop", though it's far from bubblegum. This is the sort of pop that dabbles in genres as if they're dishes at an all-you-can-eat buffet, fearlessly incorporating hip-hop, dance-pop, rock, and yes, house elements into their sound while constantly retaining a sort of detached humor about the whole thing. The sounds they use buzz and bop all over the stereo spectrum, a wide range of vocalists, give us something to sing along to, and the beats never leave any doubt as to who's really in charge. The result is an infectious grab bag that treats nothing (including Coburn's own backcatalogue) with reverence, but everything with respect.

The first five tracks lay out the groundwork. After a brief intro, "Sick" establishes itself as an incredible little dance-hip-hop track with Princess Superstar and Icelandic vocalist Heidrun putting down an ode to the butterflies of a burgeoning relationship, while Solid State puts down a pointless-if-entertaining little ode to himself. "Closer" is a short burst of broken electro-funk, while "Razorblade" sees Heidrun making a play at Annie and Kylie for the title of indie kids' pop diva of choice. A very short, very sweet version of the hit that made them finishes out the big starting five, as this version of "We Interrupt this Programme" brings Solid State back for an encore of his "Sick" performance, spitting fire for a couple of minutes before the track just ends and turns into something else. It's an acknowledgment and a leaving behind of a past merely two years old, making those two years feel like a lifetime past.

The freedom that Coburn obviously feels after making such a bold statement with its own song becomes obvious as the rest of the album progresses. Sub-one-minute transitional tracks about, and the proper songs are all over the map. "Give Me Love" and "Tallulah" showcase Heidrun's lovely voice just a little more, the former shamelessly evoking Donna Summer (big, thumping beats and all) and the latter deconstructs the singsongy little ditty more commonly known as "My Name is Tallulah" into a shimmery pop song that might just be a little bit too precious for its own good.

Rock 'n' roll even gets a couple of nods, what with "I Get My Kicks" and "Edge of a Knife" employing live guitars, handclaps, and swaggering vocals from the men of Coburn themselves. It's hard to tell whether "I Get My Kicks" is satire or homage to the sort of Billy Idol-esque testosterone that it evokes, which hurts it somewhat, but "Edge of a Knife" is masterful, slithery noir-fodder that might make Jim Thirlwell proud with its distorted beats, heavy strings, and perfectly reedy vocal style.

The album that Coburn has assembled here is ultimately wonderful and schizophrenic, which actually works for and against it. For one, it's terrific to hear a duo so in tune with itself and so imbued with confidence as to be willing to try anything that pops into its head. On the flipside, however, is the fact that throwing so many darts is going to result in a few missed bulls-eyes. "Tallulah" and "I Get My Kicks" are as well-constructed and well-produced as anything else, but they don't capture the imagination that most of the rest of the album does. Perhaps worst of all, "Erase" closes the album on an atypically down note with spoken word and a David Bowie circa Outside sense of atmosphere, killing the buzz of a tremendously up album. Regardless of the missteps, however, those with an interest in anything (or everything) electronic, would do well to seek out Coburn, one of the strongest, and perhaps the most overlooked of the electronic releases of last year.


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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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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