Reviews

Gorillaz

Doug Levy

One demonic day and another in clear color...

Gorillaz

Gorillaz

City: New York
Venue: Webster Hall
Date: 1969-12-31

If these shows had taken place in England in the late '90s, there would have been considerable commotion. Perched on his piano bench, Blur frontman Damon Albarn is sharing the stage with Simon Tong and Simon Jones, two members of former fellow Britrock titans the Verve. It's interesting to note that, at a run of concerts centered in large part on the thrill of a series of guest stars, this particular cultural run-in goes for the most part unnoticed. It's just a few too many years after its time. Demon Days Live however, is very much of its moment. While Albarn's musicianship and vision are no secret to longtime Blur fans, it's his Gorillaz project that has enabled him to stay in the pop-culture limelight, drawing in more fans (often remarkably young ones) than he could still hope to attract with his other band. Mixing hip-hop with world music, rock with pop, and blurring the lines of reality with animation as readily as those genres, Albarn has created not just music, but an entire concept that appeals to just about every age group, every ethnic group, and fans of all types of music. It definitely didn't hurt that Demon Days the album, the group's second full-length, was produced by man-of-the-moment Danger Mouse -- a Midas-like beat-king who lately can't help but turn every record he touches into gold (or quite possibly platinum).


Gorillaz
multiple songs MP3
The idea behind Demon Days Live is both simple and ambitious: to perform the new album in its entirety, bring in everyone who even briefly appeared on the disc (whenever possible), and supplement the show with unique video presentations for each song. Throw in a gospel choir, a children's choir, a full-string section, and a couple of life-sized talking puppets in the balcony, and you have a production worthy of a five-night run at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre. As with any undertaking involving so many components, of course, it was all about the execution. While Demon Days Live had already enjoyed a successful similar run in the UK (now commemorated on DVD), the New York shows -- and New York crowds -- remained an unknown quantity. And indeed, things hardly got off to an ideal start. On the first night of the concerts, the video screen that displays all of the visuals (animations, short films, videos) failed to function. As a result, the focus fell squarely on the music itself. On the one hand, this was a good thing: Albarn is a remarkable performer, a man with undeniable charisma and presence, even when he hides in the shadows toward the back of the stage. And some of the guest performers were up to the challenge as well, dominating the stage with performances ranging from exuberant (De La Soul) to delightfully bizarre (Shaun Ryder). However, this focus on the players also spotlighted the shortcomings of live versions of songs that feature pre-recorded vocals, as well as some of the show's more lackadaisical, less engaging moments. Overall, night one was an enjoyable experience, but a return visit revealed that, indeed, something had been missing. With the screen working, the pre-recorded vocal tracks (primarily Danger Mouse collaborator MF Doom's) were joined by amusing video footage, while many of the songs featured original animations by Gorillaz' visual mastermind Jamie Hewlett. When the action on stage wasn't enough for the ADD-addled audience, in other words, there was always something interesting to look at. On top of that, Wednesday's performance featured an unheralded, extremely well-received live appearance by Dennis Hopper, reprising his role on the album by reading aloud on "Fire Coming out of the Monkey's Head." It was his first time joining the band on stage, and while he would do it again on the following nights, the element of surprise on this one made it all the more special. There were still some odd moments -- the usually mighty Roots Manuva seemed a bit lost on the Apollo's stage during "All Alone", for example, even with the resplendent Martina Topley Bird by his side - but overall, it was a performance where all the elements fell into place. When Albarn finally came to the front of the stage to sing non-album track "Hong Kong" fully revealed, he seemed genuinely happy, and rightfully so. An additional element even helped to close things on a more emotional note: with the video screen working, Gorillaz were able to screen footage of the late, great Ibrahim Ferrer turning in a passionate vocal performance on "Latin Simone," a track from the band's debut. From a cultural standpoint, really, these shows -- and Gorillaz in general -- could be analyzed on a myriad of levels, and from a multitude of viewpoints; but as the real-life realization of the work of a band of cartoon misfits, and as the coming together of a whole cast of genuine performers and personalities, it was simply a damn good time. These days, it doesn't get much more culturally relevant than that.

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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