Music

Gary Bennett: Human Condition

Former BR5-49er says he wants the simple life, but don’t believe him. Like everyone else, he just wants what he hasn’t got.


Gary Bennett

Human Condition

Label: Landslide
US Release Date: 2006-02-21
UK Release Date: 2006-03-20
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Gary Bennett yearns for the gold old days before John F. Kennedy was shot, when America considered itself a great nation. You know, when boys could be boys and believe in the honor of their country, and when girls knew their roles as mothers and wives. Ah, those golden years of long ago, before the crass commercialism had invaded every nook and cranny of our popular culture and working twenty-four/seven wasn't as important as being at home with the family.

This vision of life informs all twelve songs on Bennett's debut solo album. This former founding member of the legendary country group BR5-49 pours forth his heart and soul on his new album, and it's as corny as anything of the Nashville music he used to poke fun of. That doesn't make this is a bad record. In fact, the dozen songs of the simple life offer much enjoyment. It's just kinda strange and annoying that Bennett settles for this when the evidence of his considerable talents shines through the thin material like sunlight pouring through a summer dress. What's revealed promises more than what's delivered, but it's still a pretty apparition.

The USA that Bennett desires is more phony, or maybe more mythic, than anything that actually existed. It's like watching old Leave it to Beaver episodes as social history. The great poet Allen Ginsberg once referred to this vision in a poem written even before JFK was president as "the lost America of love". Bennett is no Ginsberg (nor Walt Whitman), but he is a much better musician and composes more interesting tunes. Bennett's self-penned lyrics are more evocative than poetic, but he makes his points clearly.

Consider "American Dreamin'". Bennett starts the tune with distorted electric guitar feedback and slashing chord riffs reminiscent of the '60s pop hit "Shape of Things to Come". While it's impossible to know how deliberate the reference is, the strong similarity seems intentional and adds depth to the song. "Shape of Things to Come" was the key number from the movie Wild in the Streets, in which Hal Holbrook plays a Kennedy-like politician who panders to the youth vote to the eventual detriment of the country. Bennett takes off on this point to wish for an earlier period of history. "I want to take my girl to a Rockwell world / Find a little house in sleepy town / I want to hear Paul Harvey on the radio / Tell how the dream has come back around". Bennett dreams of a more innocent time in an angry tone, but this ignores how bad that era was for so many. One doesn't have to be Howard Zinn to understand how hollow that reality was for so many citizens.

Page two, the rest of the story: While "American Dreamin'" may be the most explicit allusion to the past, the rest of the tunes on the disc proffer this same sham of the uncomplicated life. Even the song titles suggest this: "Headin' Home", "Things That Mean a Lot", "Just Wanna Be With You", That's What I'm Here For", "Ain't Getting' Younger", etc. The concepts behind the material are no more complex than the names indicate (i.e. "Headin' Home" is about someone who is lonely on the road and can't wait to get back home, the "Things That Mean a Lot" are the little things, and so on.). Still, the songs do have their charm, in part because Bennett keeps things simple. He has a smooth voice that sounds sincere and never reaches for a note. He also employs some excellent musicians, including Kenny Vaughn (Marty Stuart) on guitar, Jimmy Lester (Los Straitjackets) on drums, and Mark Winchester (Emmylou Harris) on bass. Marty Stuart guests on mandolin on several cuts, as does Country Music Hall of Fame pedal steel guitar player Lloyd Green.

Bennett bemoans the "Human Condition", which he explains on the title track is that everyone always wants what s/he hasn't got. That's probably true of the man himself. Bennett says he longs for a simpler time, but I bet he wouldn't be happy if his wishes came true. He sounds wiser than that, and it's too easy to criticize a cartoonish view of the present, where everyone has forgotten the basic truths. Bennett is a very talented musician who has made an enjoyable album. He makes the listener want what one hasn't got -- a more complex record that shows what how rich life is with all its problems. This is the true existential human condition.

6

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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