Reviews

Frasier

Michael Abernethy

Frasier and his brother are effete snobs and proud of it.


Frasier

Airtime: Fridays, 10pm (Channel 4, UK); Tuesdays, 9pm (NBC, USA)
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, Jane Leeves, Moose, Saul Rubinek, Jane Adams, Anthony LaPaglia
Network: Channel
Amazon

Next year, one of the best sitcoms in television history will end. As of Fall 2004, NBC will be missing the big F. No, not Friends. I mean Frasier, the show that, during its first five seasons, won a record five consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy. As of now, it has received a total of 31 Emmys, an all-time record.

Frasier Crane has been on television every year since 1984, first as Diane Chambers' love interest on Cheers and then in his own spin-off, putting him in the same longevity league as Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke and Erica Kane of All My Children. Frasier has earned Kelsey Grammer three Emmys of his own and the distinction of being the only person nominated for an Emmy for playing the same character on three separate series (Cheers, Wings, and Frasier). Grammer has also won two Golden Globes and an American Comedy Award, while co-star David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane) has won three Emmys and John Mahoney (Martin Crane) and Jane Leeves (Daphne Moon Crane) have received nominations. Clearly, the show and cast have earned their place in television history, so why is Frasier's departure going virtually unnoticed?

The most obvious reason is the media focus on Friends' last season. This story has made the cover of Newsweek, and USA Today has been running a weekly feature recalling "favorite" Friends episodes. True, Frasier is no longer the ratings darling that Friends has remained. Also true, this decline reflects a decline in the show's quality, which has, over the last four seasons, grown increasingly stale.

Now, for this last season, Chris Lloyd and Joe Keenan -- who wrote some of the best episodes for the first seven years -- have returned as executive producers. This season has developed a romantic triangle involving Frasier, his father, Martin, and Frasier's former babysitter (Wendy Malick). What makes this storyline different from the many other "Frasier doesn't get his way" storylines of recent seasons is that Frasier is revealing actual maturity. Sure, he still has tantrums, but also shows a greater capacity to understand someone's viewpoint other than his own.

It seems right that the series end on a high note. It has given us classic comedy and enduring, sophisticated characters. Frasier and his brother are effete snobs and proud of it, referring to La Traviata, composer Philip Glass, Anne Hedonia (the original title of Annie Hall, and a play on the psychological condition, anhedonia), fine wines, and cultural differences:

Niles: "What's the word for 'lighthearted' in French?" Frasier: "There isn't one."

Consistently intelligent banter requires the viewer to remain alert, as when Frasier introduces Niles as "the eminent psychiatrist," and Niles corrects him: "My brother is too kind. He was already eminent, while my eminence was merely imminent." At the same time, the show's urbanity is not exclusive. We may not appreciate the glory that is a '66 Château Lafite Rothschild, but we can still laugh at Frasier's maniacal insistence that nothing else will be suitable for his dinner party. His elitism makes his faux pas humorous and satisfying, the comeuppance of a man who thinks himself superior.

In "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (aired 17 December 1998) Frasier and his family pretend to be Jewish on Christmas Eve to fool Helen (Carole Shelley), mother of Frasier's new girlfriend, Faye (Amy Brenneman). To prepare for the evening's performance, Niles coaches Martin:

Martin: I don't know how to be Jewish.
Niles: Well, just answer questions with a question.
Martin: Like what?
Niles: What, I have to explain everything?
Martin: Can't you give me an example?
Niles: What, I should give you an example?
Martin: Are you going to help me or not?
Niles: You're saying I'm not being helpful?
Martin: Oh, forget it!

This exchange is representative of Frasier at its best, using clever wordplay to showcase a relationship between characters (in this case the working man Martin and his intellectual son), not to mention the ways that cultural stereotyping blocks communication between individuals.

Equally excellent is "The Matchmaker" (17 December 1998), an episode honored by GLAAD. Frasier brings home his new boss, Tom (Eric Lutes), as a potential suitor for housekeeper Daphne ("I'm glad you made me put on my lucky bra," she gushes, "He's worth every wire digging into my ribcage"). Frasier fails to realize not only that Tom is gay, but also that he is the object of Tom's interest. Once he's made aware of the truth, Frasier must consider what in his own behavior has led Tom on, leading to his greater understanding of social cues, reading practices, and character.

"The Ski Lodge" (24 February 1998), part screwball comedy and part Marx Brothers, features a group of Frasier's family and friends on a ski vacation, complete with misunderstandings, miscommunications, and mistaken identities, all leading to odd couplings. Niles wants to hook up with Daphne, who wants to hook up with the ski instructor, who wants to hook up with Frasier, who wants to hook up with Daphne's friend, who wants to hook up with Niles -- all assume the object of their affection returns the feelings. Many shows have had eked comedy out of the awkward romantic misunderstanding, but few have created such a long chain of acutely inaccurate assumptions.

Strong as the writing on Frasier has been, the acting is also impressive. The regular cast, from Grammer to Moose (who plays Eddie the dog), have all shined in particular episodes. In "Three Valentines" (11 February 1999), during a five-minute scene without dialogue, Pierce displays brilliant physical comedy as Niles starts a fire while ironing. The skilled regulars are supported by a stellar list of guest stars, not least the many who have played Frasier's romantic interests: Sela Ward, Felicity Huffman, Jean Smart, Mercedes Ruehl, Virginia Madsen, and, of course, Shelley Long and Bebe Nuewirth. And the show has highlighted all sorts of A-listers as "guest callers," from Halle Berry, Timothy Leary, Steven King, Jodie Foster, and Jane Pauley, to John McEnroe, Tommy Hilfiger, Mary Tyler Moore, Wolfgang Puck, Yo-Yo Ma, Ron Howard, and Cyd Charisse.

And so, I bid an early farewell to Frasier. For almost 20 years, Frasier Crane has been making us laugh and he will be missed, along with Niles, Daphne, Martin, Eddie, and Roz, Frasier's radio producer (the underappreciated Peri Gilpin). The series' place in television history is unquestionable. But Emmys, Golden Globes, and other awards aren't really what has assured the series a place. The series has earned its loyal fanbase. And for them, especially, Tuesday will be less funny and also, less refined without Frasier.

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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