Music

The Cynics: Living Is the Best Revenge

Robert Horning

The Cynics

Living Is the Best Revenge

Label: Get Hip
US Release Date: 2002-11-01
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Critics frequently speak of a garage rock revival, as if garage rock experienced a Golden Age when it was prevalent and popular and has since died out. This fundamentally misrepresents garage rock, which is a less a style than an ontology. Bands didn't set out trying to play it -- they tried to play like the Beatles or the Stones, but through a lack of funds, technology, or talent ended up with garage rock. Such music was never popular; in fact its definitive characteristic was that it could never be popular. Those who initially championed the music as a genre were smitten at least in part with the tremendous gap between the bands' fervent and earnest wish to be as famous as the pop stars they emulated and the reality of their assured obscurity.

In the early '80s, when the Cynics formed a band to essentially commemorate the garage aesthetic, they might have thought that their career would likely be as marginal as the nobodies they sought to imitate. After all, as a celebration of grandiose ambitions and certain failure, the taste for garage was pure camp, which inherently limits the music's appeal to a certain cognoscenti. In this case, those few pasty male record store denizens who might actually have had access to the once impossibly rare original garage sides, which generally turned up only on semi-bootleg compilations released with very limited distribution. The early Cynics records, with their careful reconstruction of a primitive, dated sound, and with their careful choice of superb rarities to cover, were basically made for an elite club of knowing record collectors whose hearts were warmed by the idea of a band eschewing trends (and mainstream success) by throwing themselves back to a time that seemed to precede trendiness.

But in the eight years since the last Cynics album, 1994's Get My Way, garage rock has gone from being the refuge for the trend-weary to being one of the hottest trends in the music industry. With new bands apparently adopting the style as a means to attract major label attention, one might cynically suspect the Cynics of coming out of their de facto retirement to cash in. But that wouldn't be fair -- there was nothing calculated about their initial attraction to garage, and nothing else in their approach has changed over the years. Living Is The Best Revenge picks up where all of the previous albums left off. They still maintain a rigorous, almost academic fidelity to the precepts of fuzzy guitars, a few simple chords, two-or-three-note riffs, whiny vocals and lyrics that confront the garage rocker's once inevitable reject-hood by alternating between broken-hearted lamenting ("Let Me Know") and a desire for revenge ("Revenge"). (Part of what is so misguided about labeling bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the White Stripes "garage" is that they fail to meet that fundamental criterion of being losers or persecuted outsiders. Wildly popular, slavishly hyped and eagerly applauded, such groups are the ultimate insiders.) Also there are two obligatory covers, a tired reading of the 13th Floor Elevators' "She Lives in a Time of Her Own", and a sufficiently ferocious and undoubtedly redundant take of the Satans' "Makin' Deals". To be sure, the Cynics go through their own songs with unremitting conviction and intensity, and that's not just because they play loud and shout a lot.

Sure, there is plenty of that, and there is a consistency to much of the Cynics' work that defies you to distinguish one track from another. There is little in the way of production in evidence here (probably on purpose), which shows in the monotony of the recording's texture. But in the craftsmanship of furious, propulsive tracks like "Turn Me Loose" and "The Tone", one can sense their humility before the genre they so evidently love. In the purity of their devotion, which suppresses personal idiosyncrasies and misbegotten attempts at uniqueness, they tend toward that absolute anonymity that characterizes most real garage bands. Their music becomes generic, in the best sense of the word.

Still, the Cynics' music, regardless of its literal content, is always about how much they love classic garage. Listeners would be better served ferreting out that actual stuff from the '60s, which, thanks to Internet commerce and some monumental CD reissue campaigns, is now readily available (one could, for example, start with the Pebbles comps and work one's way up to the Rubble and the Teenage Shutdown series). They never quite beat the paradox of their career, that they are trying to make a profession out of doing something that must be amateurish by the very definition they themselves would probably put forward. At any rate, the Cynics pay homage to the garage spirit far more effectively in their live performances, where their energy and the music's immediacy conjure a sense of what finally makes the genre great above and beyond its camp value. If one pays attention and becomes swept up into their show, one has the sense that the ability to rock doesn't rely on media puffery and celebrity notoriety; that enjoying rock truly can be a liberating, democratic experience in which one discovers a larger sense of oneself, not by wishing that one could be someone else on stage, but by being fully aware of oneself as a member of a crowd having a good time. The Cynics' records only work as souvenirs of this feeling; if one hasn't seen them live, more likely than not the records will leave no particular impression.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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