Music

Frightened Rabbi: Liver! Lung! FR!

Mostly acoustic renditions of songs from the Scottish indie group's second album, recorded in an intimate live setting.


Frightened Rabbit

Liver! Lung! FR!

Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2008-10-21
UK Release Date: 2009-03-30
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Say you've got a narrowing of the renal artery, from atherosclerosis or fibromuscular dysplasia. The lowered perfusion pressure in the kidney activates the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, the body's way of conserving blood volume. Renin is the enzyme involved, and it conveniently enough provides a link -- through a chain of activating enzymes -- between the liver, the lung, and the heart. All three adorn the cover of Frightened Rabbit's Liver! Lung! FR!, though the band may not be quite as concerned with the underlying physiology of it all.

Seriously, who knew The Midnight Organ Fight was actually referring to, you know, those visceral structures inside us? Makes you appreciate that there’s something about this band more than skin-deep, an intriguing combination of emotion and left-field imagination. I never knew of Frightened Rabbit until earlier this year, when “The Twist” came up on my iPod and immediately I became a fan. I’ve spent much time with the Scottish quartet’s sophomore album since then, and though I can’t quite place those organs it’s referring to into some cohesive whole, their songs have retained a brittle, visceral power. The band received plenty of critical love for The Midnight Organ Fight, though one can never be too sure how that translates -- the album was released in the US in April, and it’s hardly like the group’s exploded. Still, they’re supporting Death Cab for Cutie, releasing a new album early next year, and, to tide newly ravenous fans over until then, have put out a modest live album, Liver! Lung! FR!.

I say modest because the record has a transient, on-the-fly quality -- the recording (overseen by Mice Parade’s Adam Pierce) is clean, but retains little of the deep, chiming layers of the studio. There’s minimal introductory chatter, and the band omits three interlude-like songs from their new album (without supplementing from earlier material). But the atmosphere is still charming, and to the (from the sounds of it) small audience this must have been a special event. Local guests, including the Twilight Sad’s James Graham, join the group on a couple of songs, further cultivating the image of Glasgow, like Bergen in Norway, as a warm, welcoming artist’s town.

But more important than the atmosphere and drawing-room charm of the recording, Liver! Lung! FR! makes a pretty convincing argument for Frightened Rabbit as astutely professional. Here is a band that's ready for a bigger audience -- not just because they put out one of the better albums of 2008, but because they’ve softly shown us here that they can remake this material in the live setting. Over mostly acoustic arrangements of his songs, Scott Hutchison draws his distinctive voice through its full range. It’s certainly an arresting facet of Frightened Rabbit’s sound (listen for the payoff in “Fast Blood”, a superlative slow build, in which he hovers forever at the very top of his range). And with the fuller layers of guitar subtracted, as on “My Backwards Walk”, Hutchison draws a new sense of urgency from his sparkling melodies. That song, though it dips at the end into catchphrase, has once again nailed the ungrounded, disconcerting feeling of post-breakup; the soft-drawn, out-of-tune guitars accompanying Hutchison here make that disconnection patent.

Having said that, Liver! Lung! FR!, for all its small-scale charisma, seems a little less than essential. It’s not easy for the group to sustain the long, slow crescendi that lend their albums that crushing emotive quality (though their live approximations reveal distinct shades of loss and ache). And though renditions of “Old Old Fashioned” and “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” are energetic and even (with Ross Clark’s guest mandolin) jaunty, the acoustic rattle would be better described as ‘intimate’ than ‘arresting’. But what makes this live recording a success despite these differences, of course, is the quality of the songs themselves.

In the end, Liver! Lung! FR! may not be quite as visceral as The Midnight Organ Fight. But yes, “The Twist” still pings pleasure centers, gorgeous in this lighter, piano-backed version. “Lift your dress enough to show me those shins”, Hutchison sings, and a backing group that could be the whole room replies with a solemn “Ah”. Then: “So twist and whisper the wrong name, I don’t care and nor do my ears”. Nor maybe does Hutchison’s kidney or his spleen. But his heart does, and probably, so does ours.

7

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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