Music

Freezepop: Fashion Impression Function

Jason Damas

Freezepop

Fashion Impression Function EP

Label: Archenemy
US Release Date: 2002-01-07
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Freezepop
Freezepop Forever
(Archenemy)
US release date: 1 February 2001

by Jason Damas
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About a decade ago, around the time when the charts were dominated by grunge and gangsta rap, there was a vicious backlash against all things '80s. At the time, the then-fledgling FX cable network had a late night CD review show called "Sound FX", and said show was basically no more than three 20-somethings (one of them future 7up salesman Orlando Jones) sitting around in a New York apartment talking about music. One of the three, whose name I forgot long ago, had a particularly virulent anti-'80s streak, running screaming from the room when one of his cohorts put on a Blondie CD.

Huh?

Today it seems hard to believe that anyone was ever willing to write off the 1980s so fully. While the '80s may have been the decade that produced Menudo and Debbie Gibson, it also brought us Nintendo, the Talking Heads, the Go-Betweens, and the Smiths. There was always some great college rock and indie rock, even when mainstream music seemed to be at its worst. The bad was always tempered by the good. And now we have all-'80s format radio, '80s dance nights (or entire '80s clubs), and we even have a TV show in That '80s Show.

And the children of the '80s, who were raised in a culture deep fat-fried, served in three minutes, and ordered off a laminated menu in a mall, couldn't escape what has become known as '80s culture, yet they were told it was bad, bad, bad. And now that the babies of the late '70s and early '80s -- in essence the "children of the '80s" -- have grown up and are calling their own shots, they've miraculously brought back and put on life support bits and pieces of the strip mall pop culture that supposedly made the '80s so bad, but are in fact what made the period so distinctive.

So it's in this environment that a band like Freezepop is thriving. Each member of the Boston threesome is in their early 20s, meaning they were all children in the '80s. And their love of synthesizers and dance pop, modernized through dance-floor techno and quirky bubblegum pop, is garnering a remarkable attention in the college-student heavy city of Boston. It seems the kids can't get enough of a band that's nearly guitarless, a band that sounds like vintage Soft Cell or Fixx filtered through more modern acts like Bis.

That Bis comparison is important, actually, because Freezepop's detractors may say that they're a little too similar to that Scottish act. Both have two boys and one girl who adopt goofy monikers, both have a vaguely Japanese aesthetic, and both make bouncy, New Wave-influenced electro-pop. The biggest difference is that one half of Bis' influence lies in old school punk, while Freezepop's love of the keyboard is focused squarely on the '80s, long after punk's demise. In the Freezepop universe, it's as if bands like New Order didn't have their roots in the British punk scene, heck, it's as if punk never happened at all. "Get Ready 2 Rokk", the one song on either their debut outing Freezepop Forever or their follow-up EP Fashion Impression Function to contain a guitar, contains a Black Sabbath rip off. That might've been just a bit unorthodox in 1982, but feels just right in 2002.

And while that may all sound like a bad thing, especially since Bis are a pretty good band doing a very similar thing, Liz Enthusiasm, the Duke of Candied Apples, and The Other Sean T. Drinkwater of Freezepop are doing a damn good job of resurrecting synth-pop.

The band's debut, 2001's Freezepop Forever, is 12 tracks packed with '80s nostalgia and pop hooks. The title track, which serves as the band's quasi-mission statement (much like Bis' "Tell It to the Kids"), allows each of the three band members to step out for their own autobiographical verse, and the lyrics are the kind of goofy fun that one might expect. For example, Freezepop front woman Liz Enthusiasm sings "Liz Enthusiasm is my name / Wearing funky clothing that will put yours to shame / Shopping about 18 hours a day / You'll find me in thrift shops or on ebay". It's this kind of junk-pop culture fascination that's all over the disc, from references to Boston's public transit system, gay pride buttons, and e-mail spam to an entire song written about former Growing Pains star Tracey Gold.

But while Liz Enthusiasm's vocals are anything but enthusiastic -- her cadence makes her sound like a bored Marc Almond, probably intentionally so -- the music provided by the boys is never boring. Sure, it's all synthesizers, and that can occasionally make Freezepop Forever a bit much to take in on a single listen for most, but the beats, grooves, and atmospheres are invigorating. For every straight-ahead (is there such a thing?) synth-pop number, there's another that goes someplace adventurous, such as the rock tribute in "Get Ready 2 Rokk", the emotional soundscape of the single "Tender Lies", and the mini-pop opera of the Japanese language-titled fifth track (the name of which I can't decode because it's written in Japanese characters).

On Fashion Impression Function the 2002 follow-up EP to the debut, the band cram four new songs, five remixes, a hidden track, and two bonus videos (for "Tender Lies" and "Freezepop Forever") onto a disc. Of the new material, the opener "Manipulate" is easily one of the band's strongest, catchiest tunes with a keyboard line straight out of 1985. The remixes vary in quality-some choose to merely reinterpret the songs, while others push them closer to their boundaries. That makes for more unwieldy (and slightly harder hitting, though less focused) versions of "Manipulate" (here in its "Machinate Mix") and "Plastic Stars" ("Commodore Vic's Sleeping Dog's Mix"). There are also two excellently gimmicky remixes: "Robotron 2020" appears in an "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" mix, lifting music and words from the cult classic Zero Wing video game. The poorly translated, nonsensical "All your base are belong to us" phrase and the jerky, mechanical voice that spoke it in the game are both laid over a mix of "Robotron 2020" that sounds like its from the soundtrack to an 8-bit video game. Yet another remix, Robotkid's Lameboy Mix of "Science Genius Girl", embodies the same sonic similarity to classic 1980s home video games. It's enough to make you want to unwrap your plastic controllers, slump in a video chair, and play a game of Contra.

The music that Freezepop is making is so uncool, so out-of-vogue, so far from the current alternative rock landscape of Limp Bizkits and Linkin Parks that many of today's college students -- kids old enough to remember the early days of MTV but too old to bother watching it now -- are rediscovering the better half of the '80s. And judging by college radio support for Freezepop in their Boston home and the band's nomination as best US band in the 2002 American Synthpop Awards, the kids nostalgic for the days when New Wave ruled the airwaves are paying attention.

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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