Jason Falkner: Bedtime with the Beatles: A Lullaby Album

Gary Glauber

Jason Falkner

Bedtime with the Beatles: a Lullaby Album

Label: Sony Wonder
US Release Date: 2001-10-30

When I first heard that studio whiz/multi-instrumental tour-de-force Jason Falkner was producing a CD full of all-instrumental versions of Beatle songs targeted for kids, I salivated at the possibilities. A self-proclaimed fanatic of all things both Beatle and Falkner, I figured this for a musical match of unparalleled proportions and eagerly waved my reviewing hand high in the air when the release date approached.

Now that it's out, I have an obligation to tell the whole story here. It achieves what it sets out to do; yet it's not what I expected (lesson for the future: read those labels carefully). Lest all you powerpop boys and girls let your expectations run amok, know this: it is a lullaby album. Seriously. As in "a quiet song intended to lull a child to sleep". Eleven instrumental jewels from the plentiful diamond mine of Lennon and McCartney songs are given loving treatment from Mr. Falkner, with the goal of sending those sleepy-time infants off to slumber-land via something with musical class.

When it comes to the children's music market, people either dumb things down (countless kids' collections that feature cheesy instrumentation and singing of allegedly classic kids' songs), or steal melodies and replace them with their own horrible lyrics (e.g., a certain purple dinosaur) or have very low expectations (hence the success of Raffi). Sure there are exceptions, but with songs for "young children", there is a tendency to expect the worst. Happily, class and distinction is what you get here, in abundance -- which is a big relief.

On the first page of the CD booklet, Jason F. offers up his confession/mission statement as follows: "I had to serve several muses while recording this record. The Beatles themselves were first in my mind. Would they approve? I'll probably never know -- but I hope they feel the love that I have for their music in every note of this album."

Bedtime With The Beatles does reflect that love, and provides a nice choice of tunes. From the distinctively Lennon side, we get "Across the Universe", "I'm Only Sleeping" (ironic when translated into a sleepy lullaby), and "In My Life". As one might expect, the sweet McCartney melodies take slight precedence in such a project, and so you get "Blackbird", "And I Love Her", "If I Fell", "The Fool on the Hill", "Mother Nature's Son", "Michelle", "Here There and Everywhere" and "The Long and Winding Road".

With only the most muted of percussions, these songs are interpreted with keyboards, guitars, synth strings and real strings to offer a sort of musical soporific. They really do send you gently off toward quiet dreaming. Falkner takes his classical training and puts it to good use with spare arrangements that never dumb down the music and successfully meet the challenge to remain above the fray of "elevator muzak". By adding subtle hooks (e.g., the moog-synthesizer work in his "Blackbird"), Falkner holds the listener's interest and avoids turning this into mere musical wallpaper.

The tempos, for the most part, are slowed to appropriate lullaby time frames, which allows for an almost technical dissection of the musical aspects contained within. The slowing down of "And I Love Her" provides big airy spaces within the song in which to lose one's self. The newly somnambulant "I'm Only Sleeping" is transformed from a psychedelic jaunt to a quite pleasant musical translation of the missing lyrics -- this person is holding fast to a dream, not wanting to be awakened.

"If I Fell" becomes a soothing electric piano's elegy, smooth and flowing from music-box simplicity into an airy auditorium's song carried on the wind. "The Fool on the Hill" starts as a delicate lounge keyboard classic, demanding your attention and captivating a smoky room into silence, then uses a synthesizer to fly just a little bit higher.

The genius of what makes these arrangements work is the way the songs are served. Simplicity is the order of the day, in stark contrast to the full "wall of sound" production Falkner seems to favor with his own more recent work. Yet there are passages that come across as lush and full. There is great respect for the inherent music of the originals, while managing the transformation into docile lullaby fare.

"Michelle" gets a jaunty continental flavor that manages to capture the French phrasings that the absent words can't convey. What's interesting in the packaging is that the CD booklet offers up the lyrics for each song, though the songs remain strictly instrumental. However, these arrangements provide room in the music that allows one to ponder the meanings behind the missing words (if one is so inclined).

All told, this is a very whimsical peaceful musical experience that serves its source material and its intended marketplace. It's time for yet another new generation to come to appreciate these lovely melodies. Falkner proves himself with skill and grace here, grasping the music and giving it the kid treatment with kid gloves. He covers the melodies, and manages to build in the harmonies and extra musical touches that make for a solid foundation. If this is the latest in child development, I'm happy to report The Beatles can take their rightful place alongside Brahms, Beethoven and Bach in providing soothing music for the post-natal set.

Apparently, Sony Wonder has recognized the fact that this makes a great baby gift, and the CD is available in either pink or blue versions (I won't get into that debate). In truth, it's a great birthday or holiday gift as well. But you don't have to be a baby or a parent of a newborn to love it -- babies of all ages can mellow out to this. This is gratifying music -- pleasant and nostalgic and soothing, simple and sophisticated too.

It doesn't condescend, but rather transforms Lennon and McCartney's music into a true universal for all ages.

Jason also includes a note saying that "Although this album is gentle and sleep inducing, it also sounds good at maximum volume." I tried. Cranking it up does little but enhance the calming quiescence, alas. You have no choice here but to surrender to sweet Beatles dreams.

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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