Music

The Gentlemen

Zeth Lundy

One listen to Brass City Band and you'll want the band in your living room, now.


The Gentlemen

Boston Confidential

Boston was so much older then; it's younger than that now.

Back then, Kenmore Square had an element of grime to its pint-sized neon flash, home to sooty landmarks like the Rathskeller, harbinger of halcyon Boston rock like Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.; these days, it smiles a bleached-tooth smile of luxury hotels and Gap outlets, courtesy the gentrified non-vision of Boston University Emperor... er, President Emeritus John Silber. Back then, the tangled extremities of the Central Artery cast neighborhoods in shadow; these days, the bungled Big Dig project has replaced the aboveground concrete monstrosities with visual, if not commuter, unification. Most significantly, Boston is no longer an 86-year-old loser, an urban populace of coulda-beens and underdogs; the Red Sox brought the World Series trophy home, turning the city into an appreciative, yet reluctant, winner, defogging its perpetual defeatist haze.

The Gentlemen don't fit into this newly beautified version of Boston. The Gentlemen don't serve its airbrushed, corporate conditioned, family-friendly town. If the city's tension has been relieved -- both symbolically and quite literally -- by the events of last October, the Gentlemen still carry that burden of pent-up histories, snarling and temperamental, seemingly unaware of their neighborhood's reversal of fortune. And loving it.

The Gentlemen are sweat. Pores bottlenecked with stiff-lipped riffs. Underarms oozing rock classicisms. They deliver everything you could ask for from a rock 'n' roll band: Jagger struts, cataclysmic guitar rumblings, a wickedly tight rhythm section, and inexhaustible wit. Utilitarian and electric. The Gentlemen pace like a cat in a preoccupied trance, and pounce like one, too, suddenly and apologetically.

Officially, the Gentlemen have been together for roughly five years, a result of the friendship between singer/guitarist Mike Gent (of the Figgs) and the rhythm section of the underappreciated New Haven-via-Boston band the Gravel Pit: drummer Pete Caldes; singer/guitarist Lucky Jackson; and singer/bassist Ed Valauskas (the Pit is currently on an extended hiatus). The four are oft called-upon session and live players, a homespun wrecking crew that has -- individually and collectively -- backed up Graham Parker, Kay Hanley, Juliana Hatfield, Wheat, and the Candy Butchers. Extra-curricular engagements aside, they're are at their loosest and most potent as the Gentlemen, cultivating an unabashedly fun romp through no-frills rock 'n' roll, a lean and mean, extraordinary machine feasting on an ordinary idiom.

Following two records of raw, juiced-up rock (2000's Ladies and Gentlemen... and 2003's Blondes Prefer the Gentlemen), the just-released Brass City Band finds the band branching out in thrilling evolution: horns, keyboards, and a democratic collection of airtight songs from Gent, Jackson, and Valauskas help make it their best album yet. Beyond its kiss-offs and spit-takes, Brass City Band is essentially an amplified celebration of rock's touchstones: the Gents channel the Stones (the nippy Keef riff of "Flame for Hire", the X-Pensive Winos sass and burn of "Velvet Rope") and early Elvis Costello (the scathing indictment in the cowbell-prancing "Hit That" and the trash-talking "A Lot to Say"); dream of a Memphis wedding officiated by "the good Rev. Green" (the power-pop-in-overdrive "Three-Minute Marriage Proposal"); swing some brass-padded funky punches and body blows ("He Had a Mother Tongue" and "100 Stone"); and unleash some relentless ass kickings (the paranoid "Watchdogs" and threatening "Brass City Band").

The album was a long time coming. After winning top honors at local radio station WBCN's Rock 'N' Roll Rumble in 2002, the Gentlemen took advantage of the prize -- free studio time -- to record Brass City Band's basic tracks. After tracking a rash of overdubs, Valauskas attempted to mix the album himself at home, to adhere to its "no budget theory". "I had no perspective, not to mention mixing in the box is not nearly as good as going through a Neve," Valauskas admits via e-mail. The songs were soon turned over to Matt Beaudoin at Boston's Q Division Studios (where Valauskas works as studio and label manager), who churned out bright, punchy mixes in two days flat. With the record finally ready to go, the Gentlemen found themselves without a label: Q Division Records (who released Ladies and Gentlemen...) passed, and Sodapop Records (releasers of Blondes Prefer the Gentlemen) had closed its doors. The band decided to issue Brass City Band on its own label (the Gentlemen's Recording Co.) and copies are currently only available online. "The good news," says Valauskas, "is that we can go at our own pace and not have to share the money with anyone."

As much as the band values its independence, it's difficult to understand why a label hasn't swooped down to promote such a ferociously talented act, especially at a time when straight-up rock 'n' roll is once again being embraced by the mainstream. Consider these unexaggerated facts: Brass City Band will be one of the year's most rousing, addictive rock records, and the Gentlemen are one of Boston's most notoriously inspiring live acts. Yet despite public endorsements by major figures like Aerosmith's Joe Perry and ESPN's Peter Gammons, as well as glowing write-ups in the local papers, the Gentlemen's influence isn't felt beyond a few suburbs from the Charles River. Day jobs and a rocky relationship with the all-too-familiar bank account-draining realities of self-promoted touring often keep the band within the confines of New England. To a listener halfway across the country, that's a bummer: One listen to Brass City Band and you'll want the band in your living room, now. You'll have "Silver Boogie" and "Hit That" and "No Need to Leave" cranked so loud, your neighbors will look into a restraining order. You'll drop to your knees, shouting aloud to your god or your void, asking age-old questions about a capitalist-driven society's infringement on your favorite band's ability to drive its van through your town. (But that's life. So go buy the record and start pining.)

Still, there's hope for you all. With Brass City Band, the Gentlemen have transcended their own humble origins. They won't be able to maintain a low-profile stature as local heroes. New Boston can't contain this kind of raw electricity; it will end up bending and breaking to the Gentlemen's hyperkinetic will. Jackson, the band's preeminent writer of stadium-sized rave-ups, composed Brass City Band's closing title track, a strenuous warning full of bravado and something resembling courage. "Do yourself a favor and don't fuck with the Brass City band!" he hollers over the tune's major-to-minor chord rockslide (with a little help from Superdrag's John Davis and Sam Powers). Old Boston would be proud. Old Boston would stick its middle finger up in solidarity.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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