Music

The Dandy Warhols: Welcome to the Monkey House

Rahul Gairola

The Dandy Warhols

Welcome to the Monkey House

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2003-08-19
UK Release Date: 2003-05-19
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A definite deviation from the tranquil melodrama of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, the Dandy Warhols' new album Welcome to the Monkey House demonstrates, as do the three previous albums, that the Dandys are poised to take over the world musically but should definitely not dabble with filmmaking. While the Dandys' first three albums offer narcoleptic songs like "Green" from The Dandy Warhols Come Down and Bohemia's hypnotic "Sleep", the band seems to emerge from a heroin-inspired haze into the giggly cloud of a bong hit. No doubt, one of the main reasons for the more upbeat, '80s-inspired songs is that Nick Rhodes, better known as the keyboard player of glam band Duran Duran, produced the album (which even features a song in which Simon LeBon offers listeners a falsetto that would convince you that he castrated himself just to sing it). But for this evident shift away from a droning croon and towards peppy electronica that is nostalgic of Duran Duran's work in the '90s, Welcome to the Monkey House, which includes a short film directed by leadman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, puts the Dandys on a startlingly refreshing level that nonetheless carries with it Taylor-Taylor's trademark piss-off sarcasm and drollery. Combined with his scratchy vocals and the ethereally retro sounds which ornament most of the songs, the end result is a melodic pastiche of vocals and sounds that compel the ear to re-think the meaning of harmony, even despite the cacophony of a couple of songs.

One might not expect a band with roots in Portland, Oregon, on just their fourth studio album, to be capable of such a grandiose project, but Monkey House offers listeners songs that feel as if they are distinct psychological moments that capture, like a Polaroid camera within the mind and heart, the internal arguments, conversations, and ambivalences we all experience within ourselves, and how American pop culture infuses itself even unto the depths of our aesthetic psyches. Perhaps this is most evident when one looks at the CD cover, which immediately recalls the cover of the Velvet Underground's 1967 The Velvet Underground & Nico, or the title track's references to Michael Jackson and Elastica. Taking the title from Kurt Vonnegut's collection of short stories of the same name, the album's title seems, like Radiohead's Hail to the Thief, a political allusion to George W. Bush's bestial tenure in the White House. Likewise, the lyrics poke fun at awkward life moments through the articulation of heavy bass lines and a collage of synthy blips and sounds as on "We Used to Be Friends". Taylor-Taylor croons "A long time ago we used to be friends / But I haven't thought about you lately at all", the lyrical irony highlighted by his own dive into a falsetto that gives chills. "Plan A" features Le Bon's ear-defying falsetto against the backdrop of a guitarpsichord that compels one to imagine a troupe of toads dressed in medieval robes hopping up and down as a large hen dressed like Maid Marian performs an opera for King Henry. But this is the sheer brilliance of the album -- the strange collages of synthesized sounds compel the mind to imagine equally strange scenarios to accompany each new song.

A mixture of electronic bumps and blips, followed by heavy breaths and a pronounced bass line that sounds like a locomotive trudging up a mountaintop, opens "The Dope", a homage to obsessions with those who reflect to us our own awesomeness. As is common with Taylor-Taylor's lyrics, the song pokes fun at yuppie culture in a way reminiscent of the band's most known radio song from Bohemia -- "Bohemian Like You". This seems to again reflect Taylor-Taylor's intent on "I Am Over It", which opens with the sound of someone toking up a bong. In this sense, the song's objective seems to make fun of the privileges of drug culture, and is thus wry in its irony. However, for all of the album's sardonic humor and aural innovation, this is not to say that Rhodes does not at times overdo his synth washes to yield songs that confuse the ear and seem somewhat pointless.

Both the lyrics and music of "I Am a Scientist" offend the ears and senses, and one cannot help but wonder if Taylor-Taylor and David Bowie (who co-wrote the song) themselves weren't smoking pot (or crystal meth) when they wrote the song, which is a jarbled mess of clashing electronic sounds and feeble gibberish that feel like sloppy filler. Equally dubious is "The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone", which swims in '60s sounds by using swirly, distorted vocals but just doesn't mature into a worthwhile musical exploit that fills a room like the majority of songs on the album. Indeed, these two songs exemplify how, as on Madonna's Ray of Light album, ultimate synthesization can be overkill in the same way it can serve as aural ornamentation that renders an album refreshing and original.

Beyond these two hurdles lies the sweetest, most sophisticated half of the album. "Insincere Because I" is a dreamy wash of guitars and drumbeats with Taylor-Taylor's vocals stretching to their most otherworldly limits. Perhaps the most beautiful moment on the album, however, is the catchy "The Last High", which gently oscillates between odd blips of electronica and a lovely orchestration of guitars and synthesized strings that heightens Taylor-Taylor's whiny crooning to an orgasm of rich sounds skillfully textured by Rhodes' use of synthesizers and beats. "The Last High" was co-written by Evan Dando of Lemonheads fame, yet it strangely accomplishes so much more musically than "I Am a Scientist" does despite its Bowie-esque star power.

The tunes that follow continue to showcase the band's uncanny ability to come together and create striking collages of acoustic and electric guitars cushioned by Taylor-Taylor's signature crooning. Of particular note are "Heavenly", which opens with a gentle electric guitar but moves into a refrain with layered vocals laid on top of loud electric guitars, and "Hit Rock Bottom". The latter song successfully takes a stab at what "The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone" tries to do but fails at -- using psychedelic '60s funk in a way that complements the rest of the song's direction. This final note also leaves us with Taylor-Taylor's brilliant wit as he sings, "You ain't got music if you ain't got muscle -- oh yeah!" Again, one's imagination is inspired to wander off and daydream of Austin Powers in a gold-sequin jock strap disco dancing at the Playboy Mansion and other such silly things. Perhaps it is this very quality that threatened Capitol Records and prompted the label to reject the Dandys' second album (which spawned the coveted single "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth"), but can we expect sharkish record executives to have a refined sense of creative aesthetics or to mull over the relationship between innovative music and individual listeners' imaginations?

Welcome to the Monkey House includes an added feature: the enhanced CD contains a short film written and directed by Taylor-Taylor called "The End of the Old as We Knew It". The film is an attempt by Taylor-Taylor to transfer his verbal sense of political awareness into a visual arena, but it fails on a number of levels and is extremely problematic in what it chooses to represent. The short, in fact, undermines the album's melodic brilliance, and should only be viewed if you are really, really bored. A camera pans a red sitting room in which a number of white 20-somethings (including Taylor-Taylor and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots) sit amongst bottles of wine and, well, bitch about the world with such profound statements as "I never really got it, ya know?" The very fact that this coterie of hipsters is very pretty and all white implicitly indicates that Taylor-Taylor may not realize that non-whites also think about the state of politics in the world and are, ironically, more often than not the victims of American imperialism and white, Western violence as history has demonstrated for centuries through the global politics of slavery, scientific racism, colonialism, apartheid, segregation, etc. The net effect is that these folks seem like air-headed hipsters tripping out on Ecstasy, who are more concerned with the coolness of their t-shirts than with thinking about world violence and nuclear warfare in a truly philosophical, politically responsible, and critically self-reflexive way.

The script thus comes across as shallow and exclusive, the characters nothing more than white trust fund brats who have the time and luxury to sit on their asses in a swanky living room ruminating over concerns that will never touch their lives beyond the fictional realm of the short (nor will they necessarily touch the lives of anyone they know since everyone is white). One keeps hoping someone will pick up and read a book, but we are not so lucky. Ironically, the one scene that keeps looping is what I would say to the actors in equally as many loops: "Wait -- just shut the fuck up!" Not even the commendable framing and cinematography, the soundtrack of machine gun firing and violent yelling, or the image of the infamous mushroom cloud catalyzed by nuclear detonation saves the short from feeling elitist and non-political. Invest the time you would spend watching the film in listening to the album over and over and over again -- it will be a much more rewarding experience, and will inspire your imagination to come up with fewer pedestrian thoughts and images than those Taylor-Taylor would torture fans with in his lackluster short.

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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