Music

George Harrison: The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992

Jason Korenkiewicz

George Harrison

The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: 2004-03-01
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For many casual music fans, the solo career of George Harrison is anchored by two distinct memories. The release of his post-Beatles solo album All Things Must Pass in 1970, and his dynamic radio hit 17 years later with the infectious "I've Got My Mind Set on You". Fortunately, Capitol Records has chosen to collect six out-of-print solo records released between 1976 and 1992 to round out the artistic image of George Harrison for both the casual and dedicated follower. The set features pristinely remastered versions of 33 & 1/3, George Harrison, Somewhere in England, Gone Troppo, Cloud 9, and Live in Japan as well as a bonus DVD collecting videos, performances, and interviews from each corresponding album. All of the studio albums feature bonus tracks and extended liner notes, while Live in Japan is presented in the Super Audio format and 5.1 surround sound. The result of this arduous task is a painstakingly crafted collection that provides a fitting and deserved tribute to an artist that is often under appreciated for the scope of his efforts as a solo artist.

Chronologically, 33 & 1/3 is the first album in this collection. Coming on the heels of Harrison's successful early '70s albums like Living in the Material World and Extra Texture, 33 & 1/3 provides a slight update on his winning style. Elements of honky-tonk barrelhouse blues fuel the foot stomping "Woman Don't You Cry For Me", while the magnificent "Dear One" wouldn't have been out of place on the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's. The remastered version allows the guitars to ring, and the percussion has a crispness that was hidden in past releases. This album features countless classic tracks, the four on the floor matter of factness of "Beautiful Girl", the dynamic harmonics of "See Yourself", and the soaring country flavored "True Love", which finds Harrison delivering a spirited vocal performance. 33 & 1/3 features more consistent high points than any Harrison album since All Things Must Pass.

The focus of the eponymously titled, George Harrison finds a significant shift towards a jazz-tinged adult radio style of composition. Much of the album floats by on Harrison's acid drenched guitar, setting a languid and addictive pace. There are a few tracks that step ahead of the rest, including the dreamy psychedelic sing-a-long "Here Comes the Moon", the jaunty upbeat "Blow Away" which forces a smile upon each listen, and the brief but joyous country spiritual "If You Believe". George Harrison is the first evidence of the wit that was to emerge in full force on Somewhere in England and is built upon the new found sense of calm and peace that speaks through his ever-emotive guitar.

Somewhere in England finds Harrison eschewing his past somber tones that coursed through albums like Dark Horse and Extra Texture. There is a lighthearted playfulness exposed on "Unconscious Mind" and "Blood of a Clone". Both show a razor sharp wit in Harrison's lyrics that proves to be a cunning companion to his beatific guitar leads. There are also a host of undiscovered gems on Somewhere in England led by the yearning ballad "Life Itself" and the whimsical upbeat number "Teardrops". Again, the remastering allows these tracks to shine and the result is that Somewhere in England deserves to be recognized as one of the greats in Harrison's catalogue.

Every artist has an album that stands out as a poor misstep in his or her career. For George Harrison, it is the synthesizer-heavy, '80s-influenced Gone Troppo. Mix equal parts Jimmy Buffet, generic '80s synth-pop, and a shadow of the Harrison seen on previous releases and you have the mismatched set known as Gone Troppo. It's inclusion in The Dark Horse Years is a necessity from a historical perspective, but from an artistic perspective this is a poor representation of the genius of this former Beatle.

Released in 1987, Cloud 9 is best remembered for the hit single "I've Got My Mind Set on You", and for being the last album of new Harrison material until the posthumously released Brainwashed in 2003. The five years since Gone Troppo found Harrison moving away from the sound of his legendary weeping guitar and focusing his compositions more on his vocal ability. Due to this shift, a spirit transcends this album that reminds listeners of the works of Harrison's longtime friend Bob Dylan. This shift towards the confessional is most effective on the jumping "Fish in the Sand", the Beatles retrospective and "Dear Prudence" copycat "When We Was Fab", and, of course, the pop radio smash "I've Got My Mind Set on You". While this release may not characterize many of the standard Harrison production and songwriting traits, it provides an alternate and fresh take of one of rock's most solitary and important artists.

The most recent offering in the Dark Years set is the double disc Super Audio CD Live in Japan from 1992. Here Harrison is joined by his collaborator of 25 years, Eric Clapton, and a crack band to perform a wealth of Harrison originals from both his solo and Beatles career. The collection is uneven, but there is still a handful of shining moments. Revolver's "Taxman" stands up live to equal the studio recording, and the jangle pop masterpiece and blueprint for the Britpop movement "What is Life" from All Things Must Pass is just as vibrant as it was upon initial release 22 years earlier. Disc 2 packs in the heavyweights with faithful and necessary versions of Abbey Road's "Here Comes the Sun", the religious and legally controversial "My Sweet Lord", the serendipitous "Isn't It a Pity" that Harrison co-wrote with Bob Dylan, and a majestic interpretation of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" featuring exquisite guitar work by both Harrison and Clapton. Live in Japan as an album is flawed, dated and uneven at points, but nonetheless bloody essential for these tracks alone.

After standing in the shadow of John Lennon and Paul McCartney for so many years, George Harrison has had a resurgence of attention and praise in recent years. In the popular press he has been credited by the likes of Oasis' Noel Gallagher as the most talented Beatle, and Harrison's musical legacy has contributed greatly to the exuberance of Britpop in the '90s. The collection Dark Years gathers the lesser known albums from the late part of Harrison's career, merges them with bonus recordings, liner notes, and DVD footage to enhance and solidify his legacy. With this type of dedication, Dark Years has delivered Harrison an immeasurable service by adding even greater dimension to the portrait of a legend.

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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