Music

Hillstomp: The Woman That Ended the World

Robert R. Calder

Quirky management of vocals, no bad idea for white bluesmen, accompanied by percussion and really topline guitar combining -- wow! – early John Lee Hooker and Fred McDowell. Interessante? Molto!


Hillstomp

The Woman That Ended the World

Label: Fuzzmonster
First date: 2005-10-11
US Release Date: 2006-05-16
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Why the term "punk" in this CD's paperwork? Some sort of selling point? Funny things are done with some vocals, using odd effects to simulate things which happened to John Lee Hooker's voice on those earliest recordings that were his real achievements: as on the King label album, recorded on amateur equipment in a record shop's back room. Hillstomp dosen't produce the amazing sound of a customer opening the door and coming in off the street (you can hear the traffic as the door opens, and the guy asking a question, and the traffic again as he goes out!) but there is distortion of the voice. No matter.

The guitarist here, Henry Kammerer, knows his Hooker, also his Fred McDowell, and sounds as if he'd known both and been sufficiently musical to learn from both and show musical family resemblances to both, and to some obscure early 1950s performers whose music occasionally surfaces when a tiny Memphis or other southern label's archives are transferred to CD. The third track on this set, "I Can't Be Satisfied", is very remarkable as a performance of a Muddy Waters number wholly idiomatic and like something by a contemporary of Muddy's without the least effort at imitation.

It's actually very interesting, thinking of guitarists who had things in common with each of these distinctive bluesmen. Hooker had long since gone north and was much recorded before McDowell was recorded in the field, and a blues singer gone slightly to seed and featured in the R&B charts with mediocre stuff before the much more accomplished guitarist McDowell was rediscovered, recorded on his own, and taken on European tours from where he'd been an agricultural worker. McDowell was never a virtuoso guitarist, and I'd suppose he had to be encouraged to avoid repetitions when he recorded. The one time I saw him live he tended to fall back on the same devices, but he didn't look well, and I gather it was cancer that killed him soon after. At least he was sober enough to play, unlike Hooker the time I attended the blues package concert from which he was absent -- and not in the least missed, given that there were too many performers there anyway.

Hooker was the crudest of guitarists, with the ever-amazing voice and the handful of accompaniments he'd worked out, which relied often on making the noises trained guitarists learned to avoid. What's really notable here is that while the opening guitar notes are pure Hookerisms, there is a seamless extension into McDowell, and that is not only astonishing, it's extremely musical. I have heard good things of Portland, Oregon, and here are several more good things apparently from there.

For a minute I was going to say simply that "In the Hole" was more a singer-songwriter number than anything else, but really the vocal is more in songster style; John Hurt maybe. Philip Guttman plays harmonica. On "Shake It", David Lipkind plays a lot of harmonica and Lewi Longmire plays Hammond B3 as the harmonica's big brother. A reasonable stomp. It could be Kammerer or the percussionist John Johnson (who together comprise Hillstomp) on "Jackson Parole Board Blues" with the poppier vocal and less varied guitar part, but we are back with Fred McDowell and one of his tunes to follow, and after that aggressive drums and the original Hooker boogie theme again. The radiant monotony explodes in some slide work at the end. The guitar on "North East Portland 3 AM" is doing things to the hair at the back of my neck, and this has not happened with any new blues recordings in rather a long time. It's stunning, and "Deep Knee Blues" is presumably what the blurb I shall shortly quote is referring to with its mention of Appalachian. Actually, it's not that different from more songster and very, very early or almost pre-blues material. The closer, a second "Coal Black Mattie", is Hooker-McDowell in the nearest approach of each to Charlie Patton. Did I just mention a blurb? Here's a fragment of it:

On The Woman That Ended the World, North Mississippi trance blues, a bit of Appalachia and a dash of punkabilly are duct-taped together into a rockin' do-it-yourself hill country blues stomp. This sweet racket comes clanging and tumbling from assorted vintage mics, buckets, cans and BBQ lids, drenched in rambunctious slide guitar.

Frankly, sirs, I don't give a ducked ape, drenched in Mississippi water or rambunctious slide guitar. Quite why Hillstomp's website declares this stuff to be different from what the hypothetical uncle of a hypothetical customer listens to I do not know. Ifn uncle don't like Kammerer's guitar and Johnson's percussion, he do not like blues and cannot be imagined listening to same!

Or have I just blown the gaff and destroyed this disc's sales prospects by revealing that it is very good indeed?

8

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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