Eyedea & Abilities: E&A

Tim Stelloh

Eyedea & Abilities


Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: 2004-03-29

We must have expected a friggin' miracle with E&A. Why wouldn't we? Behind the mic, you've got Eyedea, the fabled underground MC who killed the HBO Blaze freestyle battle some four years ago, and will, unfortunately, never live down the expectations implied when you're one of the most badass wordsmiths in all the land. Behind the wheels of steel you've got Abilities, the two-time DMC regional champion and decidedly mediocre producer who will, unfortunately, never live down his rep as one of the most badass turntablists and mediocre producers in all the land.

Now then. With championship belts in appropriate corners, we can hopefully move on from 1999 (the year in which Eyedea won the Scribble Jam), 2000 (the year in which Eyedea won the televised Blaze Battle), 2001 (the last year in which Abilities won a DMC title and the year in which Eyedea and Abilities released their debut, First Born, after which Eyedea was still considered a badass and Abilities not so much so) to 2004, the year in which Eyedea and Abilities released their second LP together on -- you guessed it -- that holiest of holies for up and coming anathemic white boy rappers, Epitaph Records.

Really folks, we're moving on. From the sound of its moniker, E&A is one stellar magnification of said MC's and DJ's assholes. In fact, you could probably give the record a quick listen, hear a cut like "Two Men and a Lady", and assume Abilities' role on the record resembles the mind-numbing wankfest that tends to preclude any human emotion from the overextended turntablism experience; or, from the other end, you could hear a cut like "E&A Day" or "Star Destroyer", and assume Eyedea has his head so far up his ass that he might actually be a rapper.

Fortunately, "Two Men and a Lady" isn't a wankfest. It only wants you to think it is, literally. It starts out with some nasty porn soundbites, moves into a section from Chasing Amy, and eventually ends with a clip from Todd Solondz's Storytelling. It has the narrative detail and focus of a twisted short story -- or maybe a snuff flick -- and it's augmented by Abilities' rapid-fire sampling. It does exactly what good turntabilism should, or what good music of any persuasion should: tell a story with style and balls.

Thankfully, Eyedea suffers from the same shortcomings as his partner. What appears to be mythic self-indulgence is merely one aspect of the rapper's ego, and there are plenty of great songs on E&A to off-center the annoying repetitiveness inherent in battlerapdom. If anything, Eyedea tries too hard to make grand statements about humanity's universal failures, and they end up falling short. Tracks like "Man vs. Ape" (which was actually banned from the Warped Tour CD, so you have to figure it can't be that bad) and "Paradise" just sound overdone. They're too in-depth to be abstract, and too aloof to be meaningful, so they end up sounding condescending and detached.

But these are minor complaints. If there's anything significantly wrong with the album, it's that "Now" and "Glass" -- undoubtedly the two standout tracks on E&A -- leave everything else in the dust. They're the first and last track, so you're basically waiting to hear something as mind blowing for the entire album; and when you finally do, it's over. That might be great for the concept, but it's goddamn frustrating to think that -- here it is folks, the argument posed by critics across the land -- Eyedea and Abilities aren't living up to their potential. That's right, a whole heap of talent doesn't necessarily equal doodely squat. Before I'm lumped in with the other E&A haters, let me analogize.

The record is basically like a meth binge: it knocks you on your ass right off the bat, and it's not until a couple of hours later (or approximately forty minutes later), once the cottonmouth and diuretic rants have subsided, that you're knocked on your ass once again. Problem is, there's much to be had from the cottonmouthed diatribes. Take "One Twenty", a cracked-out piano jam that sounds like it might be Twista if the Chicago MC had a sense of humor, "Act Right", a battle rap that's as dense as a Beastie Boys cut circa Paul's Boutique, or "Kept", which sounds more like Jurassic 5 than Jurassic 5 does, and you've got some really strong, diverse sounds, both sonically and lyrically. Nevertheless, you still want to talk about the other two tracks more.

Remember "Just to Prove a Point" off KRS One's last good record, way back in '97? Well, take that, subtract the cornball Nu-Metal, add some "House of the Rising Sun" guitar, some lo-fi, spazzy live drums, Eyedea pacing his rhymes to Abilities' scratches, and a relentlessly shifting rhythm that teeters between delicate and chaotic. Hence the song title "Glass".

"Now" is the single off E&A, so I'm sure you've already heard it. In case you haven't, the production sounds like space rap -- it's slow, cathartic, guitar and synth heavy, and Eyedea rhymes really really really fast.

What most critics seem to forget is how much these guys have progressed as songwriters. E&A is a hundred times more interesting and complex than the team's debut, or even Eyedea's solo joint, The Many Faces of Oliver Hart, and it's far better than plenty of the underground stuff out at the moment. Sure, it has its moments of uninspired sobriety, but the criticisms have -- surprise, surprise! -- been more about the critic's laziness, not Eyedea's and Abilities'. So, regardless of what you've heard, E&A is worth your money, and definitely worth your time -- if you're willing to give it.

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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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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