Music

Grand National: A Drink and a Quick Decision

Christian John Wikane

Positions Grand National as an important artistic force that is far from exhausting its seemingly bottomless wellspring of inspiration.


Grand National

A Drink and a Quick Decision

Label: Recall
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-10
Internet release date: 2007-06-18
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Not too long ago, I attended a performance by Grand National in New York City while the band promoted the digital release of its new album, A Drink and a Quick Descision. Having twirled around shamelessly in my apartment to "Cherry Tree", a Cerrone-derive disco throwback from the debut album, Kicking the National Habit (2004), I had expected an orgy of synthesizers and the obligatory laptop programmer that has somehow replaced actual instruments in concert performances of late. Instead, the beats of "Drink to Moving On" and "Peanut Dreams" -- two highlights from the debut disc -- were replaced by acoustic guitars. I was pleasantly surprised. I never doubted the group's penchant for writing pop hooks, but the absence of musical ornamentation drew even more attention to the quality of the craft. That particular characteristic, which made the concert so engaging, is key to the appeal of Grand National's latest batch of tunes. With a title that cops a line from an old Hall and Oates' hit ("She's Gone"), A Drink and a Quick Decision serves up ten new tracks of pop experiments by Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence "La" Rudd, a.k.a. the forces behind Grand National.

Let's start with the single. "By the Time I Get Home There Won't Be Much of a Place for Me" summarizes all the strengths of Lyddon and Rudd' songwriting and producing talents. Even if singing about vacant social situations ("When I go to see them we talk about nothing"), they know how to have fun. The tune chugs along with a hard 4/4 beat and anthemic sing-a-long melody. (It's definitely a contender for this year's "Best Use of Cowbell" award, an honor bestowed upon the Rapture for Pieces of the People We Love from last year). It also embodies the trademark of Grand National: a melodic fusion of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. The organic veneer of the acoustic guitar, presumably the instrument that most of these songs were composed on, coupled with the synthesized blips and beeps yields a unique musical atmosphere on "By the Time ...". The brooding rhythm track of "Animal Sounds" is another example. The low, deep tones of the bassline are like the epidermis over the song's skeleton as it leeringly crawls underneath Rudd's voice.

The album's moment of excellence is undoubtedly "Going to Switch the Lights On", the most indispensable track on A Drink and a Quick Decision. Every ingredient just works. It begins with a flamenco-flavored guitar rhythm, a distant drumbeat, and a church-like organ that plays the inverse note progression of the guitar. A smattering of drums opens the song up to a somewhat dark chorus that's punctuated by horns. A heavy bass riff is layered just beneath the chorus. The simplicity of the verses -- guitar, bass, drums, and lead vocals -- thrillingly contrasts with the darkly festive chorus.

Even among such thrills, though, there are a few shortcomings. If there's one major point of contention about the songs on A Drink and a Quick Decision, it's the vagueness in some of the lyrics. The grooves are there but the words don't always come across, such as on "Close Approximation": "You do a sweet impersonation of a girlfriend looking at you". What is that supposed to mean? Maybe nothing. Perhaps when the beat is so infectious, words are less crucial to enjoying the song. The other problem, and it definitely influences any understanding of the lyrics, is that the vocals are buried in the mix. "Reason to Hide In" and "By the Time I Get Home There Won’t Be Much of a Place for Me" suffer somewhat from this technicality. Rudd and Lyddon tend to have a cool detachment to their lyrics; the emphasis seems to be more about the mood conjured by the sound and tone of their voices rather than the actual words they're singing.

A Drink and a Quick Decision will be devoured by those who enjoyed Kicking the National Habit. There are plenty of musical ideas to go around and, in some ways, the songwriting and melodies are more elaborate than those on its predecessor, albeit some of those ideas go a bit long ("Weird Ideas At Work", "Tongue", and "Cut By the Brakes" would be more enjoyable if edited down by a minute or so). "Joker and Clown", "Pack All the Things You Need", and "Part of a Corner" will surprise those only familiar with Grand National's dancefloor hits. They illustrate a more introspective and contemplative side of the duo that rounds out the more upbeat material. Ultimately, A Drink and a Quick Decision positions Grand National as an important artistic force that is far from exhausting its seemingly bottomless wellspring of inspiration.

6

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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