Music

The Cut-Out Bin #4: The Psychedelic Furs, Tossed (2000)

John Bergstrom

Conventional wisdom has it that the Furs failed to recapture the glory of their early sound on this late-career effort. That's true -- they succeeded in creating a different kind of magic altogether.

I can still remember the first time I heard Book of Days. It was the fall of 1989, just after the album's release. I put the cassette into the deck of my friend's Volkswagen Rabbit and waited. The first song, "Shine", came on and I thought the deck was eating the tape. The music was shapeless, muffled and slow. When it became clear that the tape deck was working fine, I was a bit shocked. What had happened to the Furs' sense of fun, excitement and sharp melodies?

I had come to the Furs via 1987's Midnight to Midnight, a sparkling yet slight dance-pop record that was a chart hit but that the band now derides. The excellent "All that Money Wants" single in 1988 and the career retrospective All of This and Nothing had left me with the impression that the band wanted to ditch the black leather and get back to its roots, but that still didn't prepare me for the departure of Book of Days. In fact, the album was a perfect recipe for commercial suicide, something the band must have been aware of and not cared too much about. It was far too heavy in sound and theme for most of the teenyboppers like me who had loved Midnight, and most of the fans of the band's earlier work -- those for whom Book of Days was clearly intended -- had already been turned off by the Furs' progressively more commercial aspirations.

But I stuck with Book of Days, in part because I considered myself a "diehard" Furs fan, and in part because I had paid for the tape with my own money. And a strange yet not uncommon thing happened: The more I listened to it, the better it became. Out of the mucky mass of sound songs started to take shape -- good ones, too. The dense, downcast atmosphere cast a spell. And 16 years later, Book of Days remains one of the Furs' best albums, though it was almost universally dismissed and has languished out of print for the last decade.

Book of Days is not a band making a halfhearted attempt at capturing its earlier, harder, more dynamic sound. Rather it takes the most elemental parts of that sound -- Richard Butler's brooding, cigarette-infused croon; John Ashton's incisive yet highly textured guitar work; Tim Butler's propulsive, this-is-the-way-it-is bass playing -- and builds them into a sonic mountain whose peaks are unhampered by keyboards, saxophones or any of the other production touches the Furs had previously employed. And it adds another crucial element: the primal thumping of original drummer Vince Ely, carrying on from "All That Money Wants" and making his first album with the band since 1982's Forever Now.

Furthermore, the band's choice of producer had as much an effect on Book of Days' sound as did their decision to bring back Ely. Dave Allen was in the midst of a highly successful run with the Cure, having recently finished work on Disintegration. But where the Cure colored in Allen's dense soundscape with keyboards, violin or continuous guitar soloing, the Furs mostly just piled on the guitars and drums.

"Shine" announces the album's intentions from the first. After a strange rattling sound, a simple Ely drum fill leads in to Ashton's guitars, which sound like a single note stretching and reaching for air. Tim Butler anchors the simple, three-chord progression while keyboards (making their only notable appearance on the album) shimmer in the background. Yes, the overall sound is heavier and more primal than on any Furs album since 1981's Talk Talk Talk, but this is slower and sadder. Lyrically, Butler's pop culture-baiting rants and tongue-in-cheek horniness have given way to disillusion and somber reflection. "Look at me, I'm shamed / My bottle done", he sings, perhaps alluding to his battle with alcohol abuse that nearly ruined the Midnight to Midnight tour. But the melancholic chorus is hopeful enough to keep things from doom-and-gloom tedium.

Several tracks do get the Furs back to their speaker-busting days. "Entertain Me" blisters with frustration ("Why the want for all that I can't touch / And all that I can't see?") and Ashton's ruthless guitars. During the middle-eight, you can actually hear Ashton setting his guitar on fire and smashing it, and it just doesn't get any more rawk 'n' roll than that. "Should God Forget" combines one of the album's most immediate melodies with Ely's martial pounding; "Mother Son" does the same with only slightly diminished results.

In a complete reverse from the first couple of Furs albums, the slower songs have the most crushing impact. The title track begins with Ashton's gorgeous arpeggio figure, which gives way to minor chords and near-industrial drums. "She's 40 and afraid that there's / A wasted life for every town that passes", Butler sings of his displaced, disillusioned subject; and the atmosphere becomes both oppressive and affecting. The funereal "Parade" is anything but celebratory, while "Torch" is a beautiful, almost folksy reflection that lets some sunlight in and remains the Furs' only all-acoustic number.

The real secret about Book of Days, though, is that it contains a true hidden gem, a Furs classic on par with "Pretty in Pink" or "Heaven". Perversely in light of the contemporary dance movement that had just taken England by storm, it's called "House". It is, in fact, a moving anthem about broken families that starts with a signature Ashton guitar line peaking out of the darkness and surges into the album's strongest melody. "Headlines in front pages / Sell weddings and divorces / Make promises pay", sings Butler in a throwback to his sardonic heyday -- his strongest lyric in ages.

That "House" is buried eight tracks into the album only underlines how much the Furs wanted to shun commercialism, and the plan worked. Where Midnight to Midnight had made Number 29 on the Billboard 200 album chart, Book of Days debuted at Number 138 and was gone a couple weeks later. "House" and "Should God Forget" were both college-radio hits, but the dismal commercial performance wasn't nearly as surprising as the fact that the Furs' label, Columbia, approved the album as a successor to Midnight.

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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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