Short Ends and Leader

It's All Too Much...Almost: 'Yellow Submarine' (Blu-ray)

It's an acid head trip without the brain damage, a detour into a part of the '60s which believed that sight and sound could cure the world.


Yellow Submarine

Director: George Dunning
Cast: Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Batten
Rated: G
Studio: United Artists
Year: 1968
US date: 2012-06-05 (General release)
UK date: 2012-06-05 (General release)
Website

The Beatles didn't want to make another movie. Help! had not been a good experience, and the introduction of drugs and studio experimentation to their career had seen them shun the main media limelight for more 'esoteric' pursuits. Still, they were contractually bound to the studio for one more film and there were rumblings about an animated take on the Revolver tune "Yellow Submarine." Guaranteeing they'd be required to deliver nothing more than a cameo, the lads signed up, filmed their live action sequences, and then headed off to India...and infamy. Back in the UK, actors were hired to mimic the Fab Four's famous voices while a crew of screenwriters attempted to turn the simply song into a solid story.

Thus, the pinnacle of motion picture pop art was born. Viewed today, it's a silly, satisfying psychedelic piffle which thrives because of its sly subtext. At the time, it was a provocative piece of self-promotion, a cartoon classic on par with Fantasia (and, later, Italy's Allegro Non Troppo). Trying to balance a reaction will depend solely on where you stand, Greatest Rock Combo of the 20th Century-wise. If you still adore John, Paul, George, and Ringo, assigning everything they've ever done to the column of "genius," you'll probably be a bit disappointed. The boys are present, if not wholly accounted for. Instead, if you can distance yourself from the band's output and see the movie for what it is, you'll come away impressed.

The narrative centers on Old Fred, a sailor sent out into the universe to help the population of Pepperland. Apparently, the neighboring Blue Meanies are tired of the territory's policy of peace and love and want to ruin their communal good time. So they encase the popular Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in a sound-proof bubble, and immobilize the citizenry with various unusual weapons. Traveling through the many seas in this surreal ocean in the title ship, Fred stumbles upon the Beatles, who agree to travel to Pepperland and help. Along the way, Ringo gets lost, time speeds forward and backward, and the gang runs into a little "nowhere man" by the name of Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD. Eventually, they arrive and defeat the Meanies with the gift of song.

Perched on the precipice with Peter Max and the rest of the pop art movement, Yellow Submarine is a feast for the eyes. It's an acid head trip without the brain damage, a detour into a part of the '60s which believed that sight and sound could cure the world. With its mixture of memorable characters and recognizable faces, the film functions as a companion piece to the music the band was making at the time. From the flapper splash of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" to the newsreel nuances of "It's Only a Northern Song," Submarine shimmers. Even early entries in the Beatles catalog, like "Eleanor Rigby," rewrite the rules of animation while literalizing the lyrics present.

Sometimes, the combination scores a significant hit. When the group finally succeeds in freeing Pepperland, the gorgeous George Harrison tune "It's All Too Much" turns the celebration into a cerebral explosion. Color and patterns percolate while the brilliant multi-track production produces the desired dizzying effect. Character design and concept may be basic and slightly caricaturist, but the end result revitalizes our inner spirit. Indeed, Yellow Submarine is a cartoon for the soul, a significant statement by a band who had very little to do with its making and everything to do with its spirit and vitality.

Indeed, the main artistic forces here match the lads from Liverpool effortlessly. For all the mindscapes created by the band's latter material, Yellow Submarine interprets them, and then goes a few steps further. Sure, the weird clown/bear known as Jeremy Hillary Boob is a freak show combination of kid vid vitals, but the bizarre baby toy is very effective. Even better at the Blue Meanies, villains with actual bite and a wealth of equally weird weapons at their disposal. From stilted gentleman dropping giant green apples to mobsters who produce handguns from their patent leather shoes, the bad is just as imaginative as the good here.

In fact, both the head Blue Meanie and his ready assassin, a flying fist known as "Glove," turn what could have been cloying and calculated into a dream of misdirection. There is real menace in these characters, as well as a "nutty enough to do anything" intent which keeps the viewer off their guard. Toward the end, when the Meanies are losing and the chief is chewing the fabricated scenery, we see a real film here. This is not just some pharmaceutical supplement, like a laser light show or hippie dippy redirection of Disney. Like all the fictional films in the Beatles catalog, there's a desire to avoid the showcase and present real cinema...and real art.

As a result, Yellow Submarine stands as one of the band's proudest achievements, one in which they had little say or input. This latest Blu-ray, painstakingly reproducing the film in full remastered glory, proves this. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated. Without the Beatles, something like this would probably have never been considered, let along created. The group, more than any other element of the '60s (aside from the Vietnam War, perhaps), dictated the decade. Their initial sounds woke up a sleeping society while their stylistic experiments and professional polish allowed many unusual ideas to become part of the mainstream. From drugs to design, the infinity of sound to its place in pop music, the group gave the Peace movement its purpose. While it couldn't last, it left behind a significant legacy.

Yellow Submarine is part of this amazing mythos. Yes, it's self-indulgent and scattered, reveling in splash more than story. Sure, the lack of participation by the band means that the movie suffers from voice substitutes. Of course, the script is filled with Goon Show non-sequitors and pre-natal puns: that was The Beatles style. Yet for all these possible problems, for the elements that eventually came together to create a mini-masterpiece, Yellow Submarine endures. Unlike the rest of their cinematic canon, it's the most and least dated film they ever 'made.' As curio from a career about to end, it's intriguing. As a symbol of what the band meant to culture it created, it's terrific.

8

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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