Music

The Icicles: Pure Sugar EP

Jason Thompson

The Icicles

Pure Sugar EP

Label: Drive-In
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There's something very special about the Icicles. The Grand Rapids, Michigan group has created an EP here that's every bit as sweet as its namesake, yet cuts deeper when it needs to. Don't be fooled by the super-catchy songs and pretty female vocals (though do enjoy those factors immensely), as the Icicles hit upon a beautiful bittersweet streak throughout their six songs here that should be taken in seriously. And, of course, that seriousness should be taken as nothing but fun.

The Icicles are a four-piece, with Gretchen DeVault's vocals and guitar leading the way. But rest assured, this is not another one of those groups with a female lead as the centerpiece with the rest of the band standing in the shadows. No, instead the band works as a whole, with Korrie Sue on drums, Joleen Rumsey on a wealth of instruments including a farfisa and glockenspiel, and Daniel Lambert on bass, trumpet, and cello. What the Icicles create here is deceptively simple pop that echoes a time gone by when girls wore those skirts with the dogs on them and sock hops were the rage.

Opening with the lovely "Margie", which is punctuated by Lambert's trumpet, Pure Sugar does its damndest to hook the listener right away. And if you're any fan of the simple pleasures of pop, it will only take the first few bars of this song to get you tapping your toes. It's an interesting song, one that DeVault says started out as a ballad but picked up its legs over time and became the bouncy number that it wound up as. Its most interesting aspect is perhaps the gender-bent chorus of "Margie dear, I love you so / Let's go to a picture show / In a world of celluloid / You're my girl and I'm . . . I'm your boy". It's a terrific song and one worthy of slapping on as many mix discs as you can.

From there, Pure Sugar jumps to the sweet pathos of "Polyester Dress", a song about a girl sitting at the side at one of those old fashioned dances waiting to be asked to cut a rug with some suitor. DeVault sings "It's just me in my polyester dress / Rock and roll haircut and my '50s glasses / Do you even know me, do you remember when? / Sat in the corner, just waiting to dance" as the rest of the group chimes in with "na-na-nas" and Joleen Rumsey's keyboard hums along in the background. If anything, DeVault has captured that innocent sort of longing and wanting to join in that a lot of us have felt from time to time.

The exceptional "Lemonade and Somersaults" was written after Korrie Sue and her husband were driving around one day and saw a young girl turning somersaults next to her front lawn lemonade stand. The song itself captures the essence of the laziness of summer and the simple pleasures that kids often find joy in during the season. Highlighted by Gretchen's rhythm guitar, chiming lead lines, and Lambert's melodic bass, the Icicles score another winning tune that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head pretty quick.

After that, there's the joys of "New Haircolor", which extols the virtues of dying one's hair as a pick-me-up solution to feeling down. And, well, it's hard to argue with the notion when the band puts it forth in such a joyous way. "I think I'll stop at Sally's / Pick out a new color for my hair / Red, brown, blonde, I don't care / I just want a new color for my hair / It makes me happy when I'm feelin' kind of blue / That's just what hair color can do", sings Gretchen. Dig the glockenspiel in the background of this song, too.

And it should be said that the Icicles' arrangements are always tasteful. They don't push an oddball instrument too far or go into overkill with the nostalgic themes. This is what pure pop is truly all about. A strong sense of melody, some cool lyrics, and a tight sound that keeps you coming back. Producer Dave Trumfio (who has worked on albums by Pulsars and Holiday) has brought out the best from the band here, leaving enough of a fresh, live sound but also topping it off with just the right amount of studio spin so the finished product sounds perfect. By the time you've capped it all off with the yearning "So Sad" and the punch of "Skater Boyfriend", you too will appreciate Trumfio's modest yet appealing designs.

Don't miss out on the Icicles or Pure Sugar. It's one of the best EPs of the year. And at six economical and highly addictive tunes, how can you go wrong? You can't. Will the disc induce cavities while listening? Maybe, maybe not. The band certainly knows how to temper the sweetness with just a hint of melancholy, so it's not completely pie in the sky. But it's not far from it. Yet who cares when it sounds this damn good and fun? Give this one a spin, you'll be glad you did.

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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