Music

Faithless: Outrospective

Andy Hermann

Faithless

Outrospective

Label: Arista
US Release Date: 2001-07-10
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Is there an unlikelier dance music outfit in business these days than Faithless? With a sound best described as all over the map, fronted by the colorless raps and spoken word musings of the staggeringly untalented Maxi Jazz, this UK trio has somehow managed to become one of the best-selling dance music acts in the world, spawning at least two bona fide international club hits ("Salva Mea" and "God Is a DJ") and a pair of critically acclaimed albums. Chalk it up to the power of relentless touring in a global dance music community starved for acts with personality, which Faithless have in spades thanks to DJ/keyboardist Sister Bliss' Nordic ice queen looks and Jazz's charismatic stage presence and in-your-face spirituality.

On disc, however, the band's weaknesses can be glaring, and they undermine most of the tracks on Outrospective, their latest release. Maxi Jazz's contributions are more wince-inducing than ever, new vocalist/lyricist Zoe Johnston isn't much better, and Faithless' distinctive club anthem sound, which used to be one of their strong suits, is beginning to sound stale. Instead of asserting Faithless' supergroup status, Outrospective sounds like the work of a band that's running out of ideas.

The album starts out promisingly enough with "Donny X", an ambient/downtempo track that's long on atmosphere, the one thing Faithless can still do as well as anybody. With its oscillating synthesizers and dark, tribal drum patterns, "Donny X" could be an outtake from the band's second album, the somber Sunday 8pm. Somber is also the primary tone of "Not Enuff Love", an odd dub/trip-hop reworking of an old '60s political consciousness-raising song called "Sympathy". Featuring a overly precious chorus and a typically overwrought rap about homelessness from Maxi Jazz ("Dirty, cold, hurting, sold / Down the river, my liver / In bad condition, like my skin / Rain falling" -- you get the idea), the song tries to be both catchy and relevant, but manages to be neither.

The tempo picks up on "We Come 1", an obvious attempt to follow up the international club success of "God Is a DJ". It's built around a nicely infectious house riff, but it hardly rocks your world -- about the best that can be said for the track is that the production is great, with a big slow-attack synth riff that literally seems to leap out of the mix. The album's second dance anthem, "Tarantula", has a more interesting, progressive trance sound to it, although it's marred by yet another corny spoken word interruption from the irrepressible Mr. Jazz. ("I sleep in the precepts you hold most dear" -- could this stuff possibly be any more pretentious?)

As you've probably figured out by now, I really don't like Maxi Jazz, so you might think I'd enjoy the few tracks he doesn't appear on. And indeed, there are two solid instrumentals on Outrospective -- the Kraftwerk-like "Machines R Us" and "Code", a beautifully restrained piano and synth-string snippet that clocks in at a regrettably brief 1:40 before leading into "Evergreen", one of three songs featuring new singer/lyricist Zoe Johnston. Johnston's voice and lyrics are pretty but undistinctive -- "Evergreen" sounds like a tired dance remix of an old Sarah McLachlan track, and her dreamy delivery of the greeting card lyrics on "Liontamer" ("When there's nowhere left to run to / Let me hold you, let me help you down") turns the track into a thudding sedative. "Crazy English Summer" is a little better, with pulsating keyboards creating a pleasantly melancholy mood that better suits Johnston's sullen-waif delivery.

Johnston's vocal shortcomings are all the more apparent when compared to Dido's sole contribution (the hit solo artist is sister to Faithless producer/programmer Rollo, and has appeared on all their albums). "One Step Too Far" threatens at times to drift Enya-like into the ether, but Dido's impeccable phrasing and a crafty soul bassline keep the song earthbound, and make it the best pure-pop cut on the album.

The most interesting experiment on Outrospective is "Muhammad Ali", Maxi Jazz's tribute to the poetry-spouting heavyweight champ. Drawing heavily on a sampled Philly soul hook for its groove, the track has a swagger and bounce to it Faithless haven't shown before, and it works surprisingly well. Even Jazz's rapping sounds better, with a strong backbeat to help him speed up his delivery and stay on the beat.

Still, about the best that can be said for Outrospective is that it contains a few good songs amidst an otherwise uninspired and incoherent collection of tired dance anthems, weak raps and second-rate downtempo and trip-hop numbers. Devoted fans of Faithless will undoubtedly find enough here to keep them happy, but for everyone else, there's not much here that hasn't been done better elsewhere.

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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