Music

Joan As Police Woman: To Survive

Solid but not quite transcendent follow up from this friend of Antony and Rufus is solidly consistent, for better or for worse.


Joan as Police Woman

To Survive

Label: Cheap Lullaby
US Release Date: 2008-06-09
UK Release Date: 2008-06-09
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The thing about the perennially-invoked sophomore slump is that it doesn’t always have to do with quality. Yes, some bands succumb to the old problem of having to produce a follow up under more scrutiny and with less time that their debut, but even acts that manage to turn out a solid album the second time around can leave the listener a little unsatisfied. Perversely enough, for this to happen, their first record has to be really good.

And not just really good; that first album has to be great in a certain kind of self-sufficient way, where it feels like its it own perfect little world. Fans of that kind of album (whether done by Interpol or Jens Lekman) can get a bit thrown off when the next one comes out and it’s… more of the same, kind of. Our reaction is often kind of ridiculous: “look, I know I said I loved the aesthetic and the sound and the atmosphere here, but I don’t want that any more, I expect you to come up with a wholly new world that will beguile me as strikingly as the last one did”. However, usually listeners can eventually reconcile themselves to the idea that the artist is going to be a working musician with a lengthy career (hopefully) and that the debut should be properly regarded as the opening salvo in an ongoing artistic effort and not some miraculous pearl, never to be followed up on.

All of which is me kind of trying to argue myself into enjoying Joan Wasser’s second album as the leader of Joan As Police Woman a bit more than I actually am. Their debut Real Life was one of the truly great albums of 2006, albeit one that might have suffered a little from coming out around the same time as Emily Haines’ equally incredible Knives Don’t Have Your Back. The media being as it is, relatively few places had time for two records featuring great female songwriters, piano, and an uneasy but potent mix of emotional devastation and rebirth, despite the fact that the two albums are miles apart in anything but quality. “Eternal Flame” got a little bit of exposure, a great song that gains a bit of eerie impact when you realize that Jeff Buckley wrote “Everybody Here Wants You” about then-girlfriend Wasser and that “Eternal Flame” might be the mourning/loving/regretful response (in which case, the bit in the video where they all march down to the sea is kind of fraught, eh?).

It’s not as if listeners eager to interpolate similar storylines into To Survive will be unable to; although only Wasser knows how transparent these tracks really are, the fact that the first single ends “but then you found me, and I’m happy to be loved” after Real Life’s account of the slow thaw that accompanies moving on and living life gives trainspotters a place to start. But it’s not context (or, less charitably, gossip) that makes “Eternal Flame” capable of causing the hairs on the back of your neck to rise, despite manifesting as nothing more overtly stirring than a gentle sway -- it is songcraft, from the ragged call and response “yes”es on down.

And “Eternal Flame” wasn’t alone. Although most of the album’s 38 minutes was packed tight with atmospheric balladry, it also had “Christobel” which surged in a way nothing else the band has done seems to. With those two aboard Real Life was structured like a less dramatic version of Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, where the few more immediately ingratiating tracks scattered throughout gave you time to sink into the rich surroundings of the rest of the record.

To Survive lacks an “Eternal Flame” or a “Christobel”. Although “Start of My Heart” is a beautiful song, it is if anything even more lugubrious in tempo than most of To Survive. “Hard White Wall” eventually swells to a gorgeous conclusion but starts as close as Wasser is probably capable of to Feist style blandness. And while most of “Magpies” is great, even this avowed Gaucho fan can’t quite get a handle on those Steely Dan-esque backing vocalists in this context. These and the other songs are uniformly lovely, and it’s hard to complain about that, but they don’t leap out at you as parts of Real Life did.

Viewed as a whole To Survive is probably even a little stronger as an album than Real Life, but it lacks the peaks and valleys that made the latter so compelling, and fairly or not suffers a bit to my ears from being not an introduction to Joan As Police Woman’s world as a continuation of it. But while it doesn’t quite bring one up short as Real Life did, To Survive does something arguably even more valuable; it shows that the debut was in no way a fluke, and that Joan As Police Woman are in this for the long haul. It’s never quite as special again after your first time, but that just means I envy those who have the chance to experience the band fresh with To Survive.

7

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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