Music

Robyn Hitchcock: Spooked

Hunter Felt

Robyn Hitchcock

Spooked

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2004-10-05
UK Release Date: 2004-09-27
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In the last few years Robyn Hitchcock has revisited his past with a well-received reunion with his old mates in the Soft Boys, paid back his dues to the immense legacy of Bob Dylan with a double album full of covers, and has unthinkably reached the age of 50. After shaking hands with his past, there is no course left to Robyn Hitchcock but that rocky path toward maturity.

Maturity is an iffy proposition for any rock and roller, especially one whose eccentric lyrics and positive energy have always seemed eternally youthful. This is the man, after all, who wrote "The Man with the LightbulbHead" and "One Long Pair of Eyes". How is he expected to age gracefully? Even more troubling to longtime fans, Hitchcock has made the unusual decision to team up with the undeniably talented yet seemingly stylistically incompatible duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. On paper, Hitchcock's English whimsy would contrast sharply with the emotional gravitas of Welch and Rawlings. There is a dobro on this album! A dobro!

Thankfully, what could have been a failed experiment is instead an almost a textbook example of how a change of genres can help an artist attempting a change in musical direction. Despite Hitchcock's eccentric reputation, there was always a deep emotional layer in his songs that was often buried by Hitchcock's willfully obscure imagery and his often busy arrangements. Certainly some of Hitchcock's best work has been his most underproduced, for instance his solo I Often Dream of Trains or the unjustly ignored Storefront Hitchcock documentary. With the exception of a few brief appearances by NRBQ's Joey Spampinato on bass, Welch and Rawlings are the entirety of Hitchcock's backing band. These sparse, atmospheric recordings give the fullest weight possible on the emotional aspects of Hitchcock's lyrics. The opening of Spooked , "Television", a passionate love song from a couch potato to the concept of television, is a perfect example of the "mature" Hitchcock. "Television" is a satirical portrait of modern society that Hitchcock would have played entirely for laughs in the past, but here he plays it straight and makes it a genuinely sad portrait of a man emotionally connected to a piece of hardware. The tender song gains an emotional weight from both the country influenced playing and Hitchcock's unexpectedly heartbreaking vocal performance. The man has never sung better.

While Spooked is definitely a departure for Hitchcock, Welch and Rawlings do not force Hitchcock into an uncomfortable alt-country persona. Even his most country-like offerings ("English Girl" and "Full Moon in My Soul") sound like perfectly natural extensions of Hitchcock's core sound. This is not some belated attempt to cash in on the already burst O Brother Where Art Thou bubble; this is decisively a Robyn Hitchcock album.

Although Hitchcock is a little more somber on this album, he still retains his own warped viewpoint. "Everybody Needs Love" is a wonderful slice of jangle pop that recalls Hitchcock's salad days with Warner Brothers. The bittersweet ode to the inevitable damages caused by time, "If You Know Time", finds Hitchcock practically resurrecting the John Lennon from Revolver with spine tingling results. Even these uptempo numbers hint at a deeper sense of sorrow, "If You Know Time" seems to be an indirect commentary on the war, and the album is really only lightened up by the delightful "We're Gonna Live in the Trees", a back-to-nature narrative that almost begs for an audience participation sing-a-long: "Hey, I've spoken with Norm / We're gonna live in the trees!"

In the midst of the downcast mood of the rest of the album, "We're Gonna Live in the Trees" is a brief regression into pure silliness that prepares the listener for the impact of his devastating cover of Dylan's "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door". While I certainly could rail against one of the greatest songwriters in rock and roll padding his albums with Dylan songs, but the results are so overwhelmingly moving that is difficult to argue with its placement on the album. The Hitchcock of old would not have been able to sing lines like "when you think that you've lost everything / You can find out you can lose a little more" with the poignancy that he does now.

Spooked is a perfect example of an artist maturing in the right manner at the right time. Robyn Hitchcock has not lost his sense of humor, he has only learned to balance out his natural levity with the appropriate amount of gravity. The fact that this album was recorded during a mere handful of days in an informal jam session suggests that Hitchcock may have a long run of albums left in him.

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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