Music

The Darkness: One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back

David Marchese

Simply put, rock and roll don't get no realer as we hit the home stretch of the new millennium's first decade.


The Darkness

One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2005-11-29
UK Release Date: 2005-11-28
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It's a sign of modern rock's dreary, lazy solipsism that so much of the press written about the Darkness focuses on the band's supposedly satirical sense of humor. It's as if because Justin Hawkins and Co. have more than a dash of wit and sass in the lyrics and a heaping dose of bravado in the music, myopic rock scribes assume that they don't really mean it. That strange and perverse position has as much to do with the state of contemporary rock music as it does with The Darkness. After all, if most of today's popular rock bands meant it, there'd be a lot fewer emo musicians and a lot more work for suicide counselors.

Sincerity is in criminally short supply these days, even in regards to bands routinely held up as paragons of integrity (as Noel Gallagher once said, "you don't get to number one without sucking someone's dick"). If it's sincerity you're looking for, skip past any rocker pretending to be 'a regular guy' as he jukes and jives in front of a stadium full of worshippers, or any band claiming devotion to simplicity as their techies scour the world looking for just the right vintage gear. The solution, curious readers, is to cast your eyes and feast your ears on One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back, The Darkness's unabashedly grand, deliriously enjoyable new album. Simply put, rock and roll don't get no realer as we hit the home stretch of the new millennium's first decade.

Rock, I'm pretty sure, is supposed to be about transcendence. At its best, the music lifts you up and out of the quotidian indignities of everyday life: the orders, the rip-offs, the spills, the flab. Put on "Tutti Frutti" or "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Take Me Out" and all the bad stuff starts to melts away. As far as transcendence goes, The Darkness may not always succeed, but every song, every vocal overdub, every riff, every second on One Way Ticket to Hell... is designed for maximum uplift.

The album begins at the top of the Himalayas, with quasi-mystical chanting and pan flutes, and only gets higher from there as the sacred intro gives way to the profane sound of coke being cut and snorted. A multi-tracked guitar and cowbell then join together to help kick the title track into the stratosphere. From the first song on, the album is an orgy of crisp guitars, fist pumpin' rhythm, infectious melody and miles of harmony. The Darkness have invited you to the party. Whether or not you have fun is your decision.

Permission to Land, the band's 2003 debut, was itself a rock and roll monster, but Hawkins, along with his brother Dan on guitar, Ed Graham on drums, and new-comer Richie Edwards on bass, enlisted former Queen produced Roy Thomas Baker to ensure the new album went to 11. It turned out to be a wise choice -- most of Ticket is edging towards 12. The attention to detail alone is astounding. Whether it's the subtle echo drifting off of Hawkins' voice on "Is It Just Me?", the palm-muted guitars that propel "Dinner Lady Arms", or the rollicking piano that adds another level of bawdiness to "Knockers", the album was clearly put together with the enjoyment of you, the listener, in mind. Now there's an idea!

As song titles like "Knockers" and "Bald" show, it would be disingenuous to say that The Darkness is a serious band. But there's a difference between serious and sincere, and our crew of concave-cheeked Brits aren't kidding around when it comes to making you smile. Too much work went into the album to think that the band is at all frivolous towards what they do. If anything, Ticket, with all its pomp and riffing-stance, is a more disciplined achievement than their star-making debut. The songs are better constructed, the vocals less reliant on falsetto novelty, the solos more cleverly wedded to the songs, and the sound richer and more alive than the often antiseptic feel of Permission to Land. Not everything works: "Girlfriend's" meshing of boogie and disco gets mired in the cheap fromage the rest of the album does so well to avoid, and "English Country Garden" is little more than a simple and dainty Queen homage, but when it all works, as on the irresistible faux-Celtic rocker "Hazel Eyes", The Darkness stand alone as purveyors of pure pop/rock pleasure.

Attempts to somehow diminish the achievement of The Darkness by marking them as satire come off as tired and obvious. Why does rock need to be raw and anxious to be taken seriously? It's not as if pleasure and fantasy are simply meaningless trivialities. For The Darkness to make an album like One Way Ticket to Hell... and Back takes no small amount of guts in today's alternately uber-serious and unter-fun musical landscape. Sure, they may be practicing an art that luminaries such as Night Ranger and Cinderella practiced twenty years ago, but the Darkness are better, skinnier and have more hair, and that's not something to take lightly.

8

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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