Franz Ferdinand: self-titled

To put it simply, their new self-titled album is the most musically rich, catchy, smartly written “new new wave” record since Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights.

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2004-02-09

You can't go a month or two these days without hearing about yet another band of post punk revisionists that has come along, as young artists with a fixation on the sound of late '70s/early '80s new wave has supplanted the "new garage" fad of the last three years, and for good reason, as the music is clever, melodic, fashionable, and above all else, danceable. Yet no matter who comes along, the same question always comes up: "Are they better than Interpol?" Throughout 2003, the reigning kings of New York indie rock, were joined by a host of other, like-minded bands: among others, there were the shameless Cure clones The Rapture and Hot Hot Heat, the simpler, more easygoing Stills, and the talented, yet tragically underrated Elefant. As earnest as those bands are, though, nobody has come around with a record boasting the potential of scoring a big time hit. Until now, that is.

2003 was a terrible year for British rock, as the best new UK music has come from urban, hip-hop influenced artists like The Streets and Dizzee Rascal, while rock mainstays Radiohead and Blur merely went through the motions, releasing disappointingly bland albums. If it weren't for the drunken charm of The Libertines (yeah, I know, technically a 2002 release), the goofy fun of The Darkness, and a very solid new album by Muse, there wasn't much to get excited about, as far as Brit rock was concerned. Enter Scotland's Franz Ferdinand, who in a matter of months, have already exploded in the UK, been deified by the British music press, and have signed a $1.5 million licensing deal with Epic Records in America.

Much has been made of Interpol's homage to Ian Curtis and Joy Division in their music, and although Franz Ferdinand's music is not as close to Interpol and Joy Division as some people have noted, their very odd choice of a band name echoes that of Joy Division. Of course, Joy Division took its name from the name used by Nazis for concentration camp brothels during World War II. Franz Ferdinand, likewise, is named after Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination in Sarajevo ignited the first World War. Why a bunch of effete Glaswegian art students would name their hip rock band that is anybody's guess.

So what does Franz Ferdinand bring to the table, besides the silly moniker? To put it simply, their new self-titled album is the most musically rich, catchy, smartly written "new new wave" record since Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights. However, the one thing that separates this band from the rest of their peers is, these boys can kick some serious ass. Unlike the majestic, chiming, echoing sounds of Interpol, Franz Ferdinand packs a huge wallop on record: the sound is booming at times, as jarring guitar licks by Nick McCarthy and guitarist/singer Alex Kapranos slice through the pulsating beats of drummer Paul Thomson. What dominates this album, though, is the bass playing of Bob Hardy. His melodic bass lines, situated right up front in the mix, almost drowning out the guitars, carry each song, ranging in style from dub-inspired sounds (think Paul Simonon of The Clash), to straight disco, to simpler, Buzzcocks style punk.

The songs themselves are just as varied, the band brashly displaying their range on the album. "Tell Her Tonight" starts off sounding inspired by Madness and Wire simultaneously, with its ska feel, and the sneered phrase, "But she saw it," that ends every line, but it suddenly breaks into a melodic chorus that smacks of British rock circa 1965 (in fact, very similar to what The Coral is doing these days). "Auf Asche", with its keyboard-driven melody, is all-out disco, while the melodic punk of "Cheating on You", conversely, is much more aggressive guitar rock. On "Darts of Pleasure", the song erupts, from out of nowhere, into a German chorus ("Ich heisse Superfantastisch! Ich trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch!"), for seemingly no reason at all. The fascinating "This Fire" combines a slick post punk guitar riff, Thomson's relentless dance beat, brilliant '60s style vocal harmonies in the verses, and a contagious rave-up chorus of "This fire is out of control/ I'm going to burn this city/ Burn this city!"

If there's one song that has a chance at breaking the band in North America, it's the sensational single "Take Me Out", which peaked at Number Two in the UK earlier this year. Opening with a Who style flourish of power chords, the song kicks off into a fast, Strokes-inspired melody, as Kapranos cryptically sings, "I'm just a cross-hair/ I'm just a shot away from you." Then, less than a minute in, the song abruptly downshifts, as Thomson guides the band to a more deliberate pace, as the quartet launches into a relentless, pounding garage rock-meets-disco stomp for the rest of the way. Ridiculously simple and undeniably catchy, it's one of the most enjoyable rock songs to come out in the past year.

As catchy as those songs are, Franz Ferdinand's real strength is in Kapranos's lyrics. Several songs on the album are quite straightforward, even bordering on banal, but there are moments of sheer passion, brilliance, and wit, the likes of which we haven't seen since the glory days of Britpop (think Pulp's Different Class and Blur's The Great Escape). "Jacqueline" begins with a McCartney-like acoustic interlude and a character sketch depicting the boredom of office life ("Jacqueline was 17/ Working on a desk/ When Ivor/ Peered above a spectacle/ Forgot that he had wrecked a girl") and the joy of days off ("It's always better on holiday"), as Kapranos facetiously declares at the end, "I'm alive/ And how I know it/ But for chips and for freedom/ I could die." Meanwhile, there's the erotically charged "Darts of Pleasure" ("You can feel my lips undress your eyes") and "Michael", which has Kapranos obsessing about a man, his physical desire made palpable ("You're the boy with all the leather hips/ Sticky hair, sticky hips/ Stubble on my sticky lips"). Most startling is "Dark of the Matinee", as Kapranos shows a Jarvis Cocker-esque ability to depict teen lust and longing, as two uniformed kids (boy/girl? boy/boy? The ambiguous sexuality is delicious) scramble through the rigid, echoing halls of their school in search of some privacy, somewhere, anywhere: "You take your white finger/ Slide the nail under the top and bottom buttons of my blazer/ Relax the fraying wool, slacken ties/ And I'm not to look at you in the shoe, but the eyes, find the eyes."

Although there are times when you find yourself wishing there were more songs on the album with such strong lyrical content, and despite the presence of "Auf Asche", which is a bit of an awkward fit, this is still a very taut, confident album. Franz Ferdinand show refreshing audacity on their first full-length release, and with the talent these boys possess, the Interpol comparisons should soon be a distant memory. This excellent album is just the beginning, and it's enough to convince people there's still hope for British rock yet.

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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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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