Music

Crippled Black Phoenix - "Winning a Losing Battle" (premiere) + Interview

Photo: Zsolt Reti

Hear the latest from heavy prog act Crippled Black Phoenix.

“Winning a Losing Battle” is taken from the upcoming Crippled Black Phoenix release, Bronze, out November 4 via Season of Mist. The nine-minute track reaches far and wide as it takes listeners from the vintage progressive rock era of Pink Floyd and Robert Wyatt to the contemporary sounds of post-rock. Along the way there are brief pauses for passages that call to mind film scores and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

The group avoids overstuffed production, allowing the compositions to evolve naturally and take the listener on a dynamic voyage. Haunting, arpeggiated guitar figures give way to booming, cinematic style drums before the listener is led down a dark, horror-inspired path that leads us not back to the light but to something somber and emotionally complex that cannot quite be named.

A lesser song or a lesser act would strive for an obvious resolution, the illusion of victory or the reclaiming of calm. But Crippled Black Phoenix never takes us to those obvious places and, despite an appreciation of the familiar, consistently strives to immerse us in the experience of the alien.

We recently spoke with multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves about the creation of the song and some of the other key tracks on Bronze. The record, out November 4, can be preordered here.

“Winning a Losing Battle” is a wonderfully dynamic tune. There’s the quiet introduction, followed by the big, loud percussion, then on to other territories. What do you remember about the composition of the track?

Not a lot, probably because I tend to not over-think any music I write. I honestly try to let the song lead me, to pull me a lot and dictate where it wants to go. This was definitely an example of that.

I’m really enamored of the drums on this track, the way they really drive the tune during the louder passages. There’s also a kind of sensitivity to the melodic elements of the tune, the way a jazz drummer responds to the other instruments and the twists and turns in a piece. They’re also not stuffed into every nook of the tune—instruments share the space and lay out at times.

Well, thanks for saying that. Y’know, I am a drummer first, even though I play guitar a lot more now, on stage etc… But I still record the drums on albums, so hearing you talk about drum dynamics and the little details I love to play that no one ever notices, is really rewarding. I think if a drummer plays simply for the song, then it works better.

I have never liked drummers who go over the top with technical show-off skills. I tend to like the ones who do less but play something different. When you don’t notice the drums so much, then that to me shows a great drummer. It’s just a case of listening to everything else in the song, not just yourself, go with the feel of the song and not try to think too much. Most of the time “less-is-more” is true.

There’s that soundscape-y part or cinematic part that happens at about 3:30.

There’s a breakdown after the first part of the song. It needed to stop and go somewhere else because the first half of the song is kind grand sounding. I was hearing a desolate wasteland kind of thing to give the ear something else to focus on before the big scary ending. Then, while we were tracking the violin on other songs, I asked Chrissie [Caulfield] to try the pitch shift effect again (we did it before on White Light Generator), and she had some new effect pedals, so we messed with them and got the violin sounding like War of the Worlds! It totally worked!

Cinematic might be a good word for that tune as a whole as there’s an awareness of dramatic tension in the production as well.

I just wanted to capture the natural sound of the instruments and keep it raw and lively. I don’t think we achieved it on most of the albums before, but this time, we got it right I think. A lot of that is to do with the fact, this time, I worked with Karl Daniel Liden on the mix. He knows what CBP is about and we’re totally on the same page. Plus, he has skills.

In fact, I love the way the album begins with “Dead Imperial Bastard.” It’s very much not an expected way to open an album.

I knew I wanted to have a long “intro” to the album. I like it when the listener is forced to sit and wait through a [piece like that] before getting into the heavy stuff. But I actually wrote that piece of music for a documentary, Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD. I did the soundtrack. I wanted to re-record it because I really liked the tune and it gives the album that dystopian feel I wanted.

Then we get into the heavier stuff via “Deviant Burials” but even that track doesn’t come in on 10.

It’s all part of the big picture, the plan of the album.

“Champions of Disturbance” (both parts) has that kind of Alan Parsons/Floyd-y bit at the beginning.

There’s always parts of CBP albums or songs that unintentionally pay homage to influences from throughout my entire life. It’s just a case of not shying away from a good idea because of fear of it reminding someone of something else.

I also really dig the frenzied keyboard stuff that happens in there.

The crazy keyboard stuff is Mark [Furnevall] going nuts! I love what he does, he has some insane fingers!

There’s a lot for listeners to take in on this record, a full-on listening experience.

It demands repeated listens, not everyone will get it at first, it tells stories and makes statements both hidden and blatantly obvious. It sounds like we should and it makes no apologies. There’s no hurry to impress everyone or to crush people. So for the patient listener, there’s a whole bunch of rewarding cool stuff on there.

You’ve been with this record at every stage of its development. What was it like when you heard the whole thing from front to back, completed, the first time?

Like finding your newborn child in the middle of a motorway.

TRACK LIST

1. Dead Imperial Bastard

2. Deviant Burials

3. No Fun

4. Rotten Memories

5. Champions of Disturbance (Pt 1 & 2)

6. Goodbye Then

7. Turn to Stone

8. Scared and Alone

9. Winning a Losing Battle

10. We Are the Darkeners

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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