Music

Frank Zappa and the Mothers: Roxy the Movie

Frank Zappa’s long-requested Roxy shows final see the legitimate light of day in this new DVD/CD release.


Frank Zappa

Roxy The Movie

Label: Frank Zappa and the Mothers
US Release Date: 2015-10-30
UK Release Date: 2015-10-30
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Frank Zappa is, without question, one of if not the most prolific artists of the 20th century. Having composed and released a staggering amount of music over the course of his sadly truncated career, one would be hard-pressed to make the time to listen to everything the man recorded and released, officially or otherwise. Yet so devout is the cult of Zappa that, for more than 40 years fans have been clamoring for the release of the ill-fated footage from Zappa’s December 1973 run of shows at Hollywood's Roxy Theater. Sure Roxy & Elsewhere has been available for years, offering an aural glimpse of some of the most technically demanding music Zappa ever penned performed in front of a rabid audience, but simply hearing it is a far different experience than hearing and seeing it.

With the release of the fabled concerts this year, longtime fans and neophytes alike are finally able to actually see what they’ve been hearing for all these years, taking in the sinuously dexterous playing of Zappa and his backing band, the Mothers. Along with the film’s release, an accompanying soundtrack has also been made available. Here, listeners are provided alternate versions of the majority of the tracks on 1974’s Roxy & Elsewhere. And while these “new” versions may vary only slightly due to Zappa’s densely structured compositional approach to his music, it’s still something to hear them performed in a live setting without the benefit of the studio overdubs ostensibly applied to Roxy & Elsewhere.

Opening with an appropriate spoken introduction by Zappa entitled, “Something Terrible Has Happened…” the band proceeds to vamp into a nearly ten-minute version of “Cosmik Debris” that finds them delivering a simmering funk blues behind a blistering guitar solo from Zappa. Throughout, comical asides are supplemented by assorted sound effects, odd measures, breakneck tempo shifts and deadpan lyrics; essentially what one would expect from Zappa at this time. As he was in between his more complex, composed instrumental period and just post Overnight Sensation, there’s a strong mix of the musically and lyrically absurd.

Indeed much of the performance seems composed and selected just to see if his backing band can play it. The twin instrumental interlude of “RDNZL” and “Echinda’s Arf (Of You)” feature some of most knotted, uncompromising lines played at breakneck speed with wicked rhythmic twists and turns, nearly all of which are flawlessly executed by the band despite the complexity. From there, the seamless transition into “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” with its Broadway-esque measure shifts and abrupt stops and starts, further illustrates the dexterity and instrumental proficiency of the band at this time. With its cartoonishly outlandish structure and Zappa’s asides, it’s clearly a performance meant for the visual effect just as much as the audio.

Here Zappa is backed by one of his most technically gifted groups, consisting of George Duke (keyboards, synthesizer, vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone) Napoleon Murphy Brock (flute, tenor saxophone, vocals), Tom Fowler (bass), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Chester Thompson (drums), and Ruth Underwood (percussion). Throughout, each is given their chance to showcase their chops, perhaps most spectacularly on the aforementioned “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” and “Cheepnis-Percussion", each with a lengthy, technically demanding drum feature that finds both Thompson and Humphrey furiously going at it which Underwood expertly inserts herself within the minute spaces that occasionally appear throughout on a host of various percussion. Similarly, Duke is able to show off his scatting and keyboard chops during the amusing interlude on “Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzman’s Church)” as Zappa requests audience members to dance along with Duke’s improvisations rather than the much easier to follow simplified drum beat.

Ultimately, what’s perhaps most impressive about these recordings is not the guitar playing of Zappa, but rather the complexity of his compositions and the otherworldly skill with which each piece is executed by this iteration of the Mothers. In this, it’s Zappa’s show in name alone with the lion’s share of the credit going to the members of his band. When he asks in the intro to the monster movie-themed “Cheepnis", “Can they play it right a second time?” the band delivers with a resounding yes.

Acknowledging the show belongs to his backing musicians, Zappa prefaces the epic “Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzman’s Church)” by plainly stating, “This is a hard one to play. That’s why I don’t play it,” before largely sitting out through the tracks more spaghetti-noted passages. Deftly navigating the track’s absurdist intricacies and wildly idiosyncratic structure, the band proves themselves up to the challenge of Zappa’s composition. While the album may be credited to Zappa alone, it seems almost more for the name recognition. In this, he serves more as composer and ringleader of this demented circus. Hearing it live and unedited is truly something to behold.

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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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