Reviews

Neil Halstead

Christine Di Bella
Neil Halstead

Neil Halstead

City: Detroit, Michigan
Venue: Magic Stick
Date: 2002-04-17
S E T    L I S T

Driving with Bert
Sleeping on Roads
Who Do You Love
Martha's Mantra (For the Pain)
When You're Drifting
High Hopes
Two Stones in My Pocket
Give What You Take
Hi-Lo and Inbetween
Greensboro Woman
Encore
Yer Feet
In Love with a View
April 17, 2002 was a truly remarkable evening in the metro Detroit area, the first night in recent memory that those of the rock persuasion in this often ludicrously provincial burg weren't starved for out-of-town talent. Cutting edge scenesters could check out the Scottish Beta Band at St. Andrews or Swedish the Hellacopters at The Shelter. Aging hipsters could catch the angriest man in anti-folk, Billy Bragg, at the Majestic Theatre. Heck, even lame-o college kids had an option in Guster, the pride of Somerville, Massachusetts, playing thirty miles away in Ann Arbor. But the smart money (and, given the meager attendance, apparently only about 100 people had the smart money) was on Brit Neil Halstead at the Magic Stick. An extraordinarily gifted songwriter who plays rock music with substantial debts to the folk and country traditions, Halstead has taken time off from his regular band Mojave 3 this year to release and tour behind a well-received solo album titled Sleeping on Roads. While the album's overall tone and lyrics are similar to those of Mojave 3, the relatively scaled-down arrangements provide for a slightly different sound and effect, a difference that extends to his live show. Halstead brought along his designated warm-up act, Sid Hillman, sans eponymously named quartet (the Sid Hilllman Quartet were the openers for Mojave 3's North American tour last year). A man with a self-proclaimed 700 t-shirts to sell and seemingly no takers, Hillman played a short but yawn-inducing set of over-emoted country-ish ballads. Hillman must surely have some appeal to Halstead besides being the nephew of Byrds bassist Chris Hillman, but so far that appeal escapes me. Neil Halstead appeared onstage shortly afterward, with only a chair, an acoustic guitar, a guitar case, and a beer as accoutrements. He started right in with charmingly simple renditions of "Driving With Bert" and "Sleeping on Roads" from his solo album, and continued on in this unadorned vein for the rest of his all-too-short set. At times Halstead resembled an un-ambitious busker on his favorite corner, virtually oblivious to the audience in front of him as he adjusted his capo or reached into his guitar case to switch harmonicas between songs. The audience responded in kind, appreciative but quiet, allowing Halstead to move from song to song without any prompting or pleading from them. One of Halstead's few attempts at audience patter was to ask whether anyone in attendance liked Mojave 3 (begging the question, would anybody be there if they didn't?). Happily for those unlikely few listeners, Halstead worked in a goodly number of songs from his regular gig, taking from both of their most recent albums, Out of Tune and Excuses for Travelers. While it may have seemed a bit strange at first to hear songs like "Who Do You Love" and "Give What You Take" without their lush orchestrations and Rachel Goswell's gorgeous harmonies, the stripped-down approach worked well, allowing listeners to really concentrate on the well-drawn lyrics, the subtle shifts in mood and emphasis, and Halstead's husky note-perfect voice. Halstead wears his influences on his sleeve and this night was no exception, with song title tributes to folkies Bert Jansch and Townes Van Zandt, a Van Zandt cover ("Greensboro Woman"), and the inevitable Nick Drake sound-alike bits. In fact, the set served almost as a Neil Halstead for Dummies, being so wonderfully representative of his career's fixations. (If he would have just thrown in a shoegazing Slowdive number I think he would have covered just about everything.) Halstead closed with what is perhaps my favorite composition of his, "In Love with a View" from Excuses for Travelers, and the effect was absolutely breathtaking, the hushed vocals and simple guitar parts heartbreaking and just right. Although I could have listened for hours more, it was the perfect end to a set that was short but incredibly sweet. And though we got the Cliff Notes to Neil Halstead this time, next time he comes around I hope we'll be treated to the whole unabridged volume.

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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