Reviews

Funkmaster Flex: Carshow Tour [CD +DVD]

Michael Frauenhofer

Do you like Spike TV?"


Funkmaster Flex

Carshow Tour [CD +DVD]

Label: Koch
US Release Date: 2005-12-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
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FunkMaster Flex's car shows are like hip-hop circuses, great big tacky sprawling messes of cars, rap, and sex-sells marketing that leap from city to city yet always seem to attract the same vaguely detached crowd of blankly-staring wanderers: the Rocawearing aimless who pack the concert venues along with the screaming suburban preteens and then drift idly apart to stare at car after expensive, candy-painted car. FunkMaster Flex's Carshow Tour CD and DVD package is a lot like the tour itself, really: massive, excessive, star-studded, and in the end, about as satisfying as you make it.

The CD, a compilation of tracks (none of which FunkMaster Flex actually seems to have had a hand in creating) from various (mostly-East-Coast) rap artists, is ultimately the stronger side of the package. Album-opener "Just a Touch" is a three-minute course on exactly why 50 Cent is where he is today: the dark mood piece of a beat from Alchemist plods slowly, ominously, while 50 lopes along and just barely keeps pace. He slurs his words, voice cracking and sliding, the delivery dripping the kind of rough, raw charisma that too many "conscious" rappers lack. It paints a mood of tangible, thick menace, the decay and dystopia of the city; Paul Wall can't compare, but he doesn't disappoint either, approaching from an entirely new angle to tick out a grid of Southern-accented, precise syllables like a slow-motion snare drum.

The problem with Carshow Tour, then, is that most of the tracks just aren't of this caliber. Nas does well by "Talk of New York": he wants to be illmatic again, we want him to be illmatic again, and he nearly succeeds, over a sharp stain of alarmist, growly-rumbly jazz from Salaam Remi that misses the mark of that album's dusty classics but comes closer than most. Dipset and D-Block put in solid work as well, but apart from the main four or five highlights the album, while never really faltering, slips into a boring groove of macho chest-thumping and melodramatic production. Choruses like "My Mack go rrrddap! / My Tech go brrap! / My 40 go bap! bap! bap! bap! boom!" can only hold interest for so long without original touches, which many of the tracks lack. Gangsta rap is relatively unique as a musical sub-genre in that just about every song is on essentially the same few basic topics (sex! cash! death!), so it makes sense that the best voices in the game today are the most off-kilter, those that creatively express their trite obscenities and push the boundaries of their amoral haiku. Cam'Ron is as nonsensical a kick in the ass as ever, and Lil Wayne puts in a great, Ray-Charles-referencing appearance on "Bird Call" with JR Writer. Newcomer Maino likewise excels by riding a hard-hitting banger with harder rhymes that avoid becoming clichés by virtue of what most successful rap artists grow to lose: raw, pure hunger. And, to close it out (I'm ignoring the lackluster true album closer from O-Solo), David Banner shows everyone up by pushing the envelope in the exact opposite direction, with an impossibly addictive, absolutely stupidly-crunk gem that you can't help but hum along to even as you feel your brain melting with every throaty wheeze of the synthesizers. It's far too obscene to quote directly here (you heard right, he is threatening to defecate in your yard and then "wipe [his] ass with your kitty-cat"), but Banner has mastered the art of delivering his crassly dirty bullshit with the perfect pitch of feverishly ugly enthusiasm to make you just believe him. It's either genius, or something entirely different, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The DVD portion, even after considering the more muddled, uninspiring messes on the CD, is considerably less interesting. Funk Flex hops from city to city, talking to rap stars and ogling both cars and barely-clad models. The best moments here are the unintentionally humorous ones: early on, T.I. and Funk Flex extol the virtues of the fabled 24s (T.I. is casually introduced by on-screen text as "King of the South"); later on, when Xzibit tells Flex that sometimes 24s are just "too much", Flex seems genuinely lost, like a child torn between two parents. Eyes wide, mouth gaping: do I agree with T.I.? did Xzibit just dis 24s? In another, later conversation rife with awkward male bonding, 50 Cent giggles contentedly and knocks on the windows ("super-thick!") before they commiserate about just how cold the music business can be (this is all before Busta Rhymes instigates a fight). Any music-related live footage is practically an afterthought; the bonus features reduce the DVD content to an even more openly commercial breakdown: press 1 for lingering clips of expensive cars, press 2 for shot after coldly exploitative shot of the self-debasing models. It's a Spike-TV-esque onslaught of gasoline-fueled adrenaline and lowest-denominator titillation, which isn't surprising considering that Funk Flex's show airs on Spike TV.

Central to the package, then, is the basic crux of gangsta rap, the balance between contradicting ideals: "real" rappers spit stories from the streets, then flaunt their expensive new rides. The album's cover is a perfect illustration of its appeal: the reality of the city looms somewhere in the background, obscured by a brightly-colored haze and a massive, glossy Ford. Funk Flex himself is draped over said automobile, wearing a nice watch and a mean stare. The swirls of smoke all add to the sense of false, heightened drama. It's corporate, it's staged, it's shamelessly self-promoting: the FMF logo appears six times on the cover alone. Gaudy, flashy, but decadently stylish.

The Car Show Tour is attractive, superficial, and not very deep; it's really only worth the purchase if you're crazy about gangstas or cars. But for fans of the East Coast rap royalty, you might have to dig around a bit to find a disc this solidly compiled. And in the end, it all really boils down to one question: how do you feel about Spike TV?

5

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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