Reviews

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Terry Sawyer

NBC's has-been-celebrity version of American Idol brings to television live music that you'd otherwise have to go to car shows to hear.


Hit Me Baby One More Time

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET,
Cast: Vernon Kay, Arrested Development, Haddaway, Tommy Tutone, The Motels, Vanilla Ice
Network: NBC
Amazon

NBC's has-been-celebrity version of American Idol brings to television live music that you'd otherwise have to go to car shows or touring carnivals to hear. Competing for the chance to donate to their favorite charity, near-forgotten bands like the Motels and one-hit wonders like Haddaway perform their signature hits and cover current pop songs with the hopes of scoring the greatest share of audience votes.

Hit Me Baby One More Time puts much work into making this stale-on-stale premise seem like Spring Break at Cabo San Lucas, including shots of jumping booby blondes screaming "867-5390" like they're on some mad re-fried ecstasy. Host Vernon Kay sounds like Robin Leach and looks like Ashton Kutcher dressed as Chuck Woolery, all sport coats and jeans, the definition of tight-sphincter casual. He harangues the performers with stilted awards show patter that should reassure Ryan Seacrest his job is safe.

The first two episodes' winners, Arrested Development and Vanilla Ice, suggest the voter demographic is skewed against the sort of nostalgia that might rocket someone like Tommy Tutone to the champion's seat. Still, it's apparently important to snag both 40-plus viewers as well as newly aging Gen-Xers. Perhaps this buckshot approach will grant the show a few extra seconds before sensible network executives slap a toe tag on it.

The performances hardly argue for longevity. Haddaway came on dressed in black, sleeping through his club hit, "What is Love?", like Dean Martin doing a speed metal track. Tommy Tutone sported the night's most road-ravaged body, choked out Jenny's number through what sounded like a phlegm bubble sprinkled with cigar ash. Even my beloved Martha Davis of the Motels, looking like a demented Anne Rice stalker, sang "Only the Lonely" with enough breaking strain to make me wish Simon Cowell could be carted in on the same gurney cage they used to transport Hannibal Lector. The only energetic performance of the night was marred by the fact that it was given by Vanilla Ice, the best argument against this second 15 minutes of unearned limelight. He certainly has butched it up, with copious tats and a serving platter belt buckle, as well as a white towel hanging neatly out of his left back pocket, which, according to my gay bondage dictionary, means he is a novice but open to new experiences.

At least the second half of the hour, where the artists cover a current radio favorite, offers something other than yet another cruise control through greatest hits. Haddaway RuPauled the hell out Britney Spears' "Toxic," making the most painful maneuver of the night by crawling across the stage in a shuddering act of misfired sexiness. It didn't help that, just moments before, we learned that he spends most of his time now playing golf.

These biographical splices served few of the performers well, as Tommy Tutone try to pull off punk-pop defiance by way of Blink 182 just moments after we saw him grousing about his day job designing accounting form software. The Motels lit a sputtering match under Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why," the most innovative cover of the night, though I'm not sure the song works with an "I Fought The Law" cadence revved underneath it. Vanilla Ice re-tooled the Destiny's Child song, "Survivor." (I guess if you're gone be the ass end of a joke, you may as well put the Vaseline on yourself.) He even busted a few of his renowned dance moves, the same mad steez that made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie such a legend in the world of whitey white choreography.

Hit Me Baby One More Time provides an addendum to Behind The Music's sobering admonitions about the pitfalls of fame. Let's call this chapter "Letting Go." These rusty renderings of pop litter, some great songs and some better forgotten, sounded best in their original contexts. No amount of painful regurgitation will phoenix any dustbin career or make any listener a single day younger. If these performers wish to return to the spotlight, they should write some new shit to show they actually have talent, beyond the radio-friendly scores they made decades ago.

I have little sympathy for the acts here. But since it's all for charity, I'm inclined to be even crueler. After all, great non-profit causes have enough trouble branding themselves without being saddled with curdled guilty pleasures from a past resurrected by the infantilizing forces of kitsch. Fool me once, shame on you. The second time around, it's collective insanity.

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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