PM Pick

Corporate rock

Maybe its the immigration debate, but I've been thinking recently about Foreigner, the band masterminded by session musician/A&R man Mick Jones that in many ways combatted the untoward effects of another band formed by another Mick Jones around the same time, 1977. Foreigner, the epitome of what would be reviled as 'corporate rock', served as an antidote in America to punk rock (I see puts this argument forward as well), which never caught on or made any sort of commercial impact as it did in England. Along with Journey (Escape), REO Speedwagon (Hi Infidelity), Rush (Moving Pictures) and Styx (The Grand Illusion), Foreigner defined what rock radio sounded like in America in the late 1970s, before bands had images really in the last gasp before MTV changed the whole business model. Bands now associated with new wave -- the Cars and Blondie for instance -- and singers now dubbed Americana (Springsteen, Tom Petty) were part of the same milieu then. I can remember going to Listening Booth and buying Double Vision and The Cars with the same batch of birthday money with no sense of cognitive dissonance.

While the Cars have some credibility -- thanks probably to Ric Ocasik's taste in bands to produce -- you won't find many bands citing Foreigner as an influence or hipsters jamming Head Games at their loft parties (that is, without a healthy sense of irony). Foreigner embodied an outdated system of hitmaking to closely to be comfortable. But in preceding the band-image selling point and the "New Wave" novelty selling point, Foreigner had to rely on things that punk rock repudiated, things that would eventually become passe: songwriting craftsmanship and musicianship. Once image became a selling point, these two qualities, which are much harder to come by, went out the window -- a simple economic decision really.

Post-punk is rock conducted as if it were a graduate seminar, typically in an elitist tenor with a contempt for a general audience. Its primary function today, now that it has been adopted as the sound of hipster America, seems to be to make one feel youthful, edgy, superior. It works well in that capacity because it was almost meant to be a divisive music, meant to scorn the conformist masses. Simon Reynolds book on postpunk argues that postpunk is derived from modernist art, which was also deeply antipopulist, wary of the reasons people generally are attracted to culture (to form community, to have a good time, etc.), and intent on establishing the artist as a kind of radical innovator discovering new forms to suit the "alienation of modern life" or whatever. But it could be that modernist art produces alienation more than it reflects it; the same could be said of postpunk. Those who respond to it seek alienation, because they fear being subsumed in the mass, of losing their identity, which hangs in the balance with their publicizing the sort of music they prefer.

Why is corporate rock detested? Because it reflects that kind of economically driven calculation? Such calculation is mirrored by the would-be avant-garde (or postpunk), except they play for different kinds of capital -- Foreigner and its record label want money; a band purveying shrieking noise on Troubleman Unlimited wants artistic credibility and cultural capital. Is there more dignity chasing one rather than the other? Foreigner operates on the basis of an inclusionary ethos -- as many people as they can draw in, the more pleased they are with what they've made. Avant-garde music works by the opposite principle -- its purpose is exclusionary, to weed out the people to ignorant or ill-trained to understand what is going on so that the people who do can find one another more easily and get on with congratulating one another for their erudite tastes. The Foreigner fan expects his musical taste to say nothing about himself; the avant-garde fan expects it to say everything. Which of these fans cares more about the music enriching their lives? Which one has reduced music to a tool? To a self-marketing tool? To a corporate practice?

That said, I'd rather have a punch in the kidneys than have to hear "I Want to Know What Love Is" or "Waiting for a Girl Like You" again. I'll listen to 45 minutes of Lydon droning on and on during "Albatross" any day of the week.

The best part of corporate rock is not merely the anonymity it grants to its fans, the shelter from the game of subcultural identity through pop -- it's the lyrics. Foreigner's lyrics have brought me more joy than just about any band I can think of. The bridge in "Cold as Ice" is surprisingly evocative when you detatch it from the melody: "You're digging for gold, you're throwing away a fortune in feelings, but someday you'll pay." And consider this conundrum from "Double Vision": "Tonight's the night, I'm gonna push it to the limit, I live all of my years in a single minute." The wailing sax is not all "Urgent" has to offer: It has the brilliant "You've got fire in your veins, burning hot but you don't feel the pain, your desire is insane" verse. And the fade-out "urgent, urgent emergency" is great, lest you think its just a run of the mill emergency. And "Hot Blooded" features the all-time classic, "Tell me, are you hot mama? you sure look that way to me." But this has to be my favorite couplet, from "Dirty White Boy": "I'm a loner, but I'm never alone / Every night I get one step closer to the danger zone." I should start signing off my emails with that.

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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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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