Music

Junior Senior: Hey Hey My My Yo Yo

After holding out for two stark and barren years, those of us who care have finally been rewarded with an American release of their sophomore album.


Junior Senior

Hey Hey My My Yo Yo

Label: Crunchy Frog
US Release Date: 2007-08-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Japan release date: 2005
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Look, I'll be frank: I'm as surprised that Junior Senior put out another album as you are. Way back in the halcyon days of 2003 -- remember back then? When things weren't quite so apocalyptically bad? -- they burst upon an unsuspecting world full-grown as if from the furrowed brow of Zeus himself. D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat was the album, and "Move Your Feet" was the song. You probably remember the video, with Commodore 64 graphics and a dancing squirrel. It was infectious, it was irresistible, it was one of the best singles of the decade. It also held the unmistakable stink of the dreaded "one hit wonder". The chances of Junior Senior ever releasing anything again, let alone anything nearly as earth-shatteringly awesome as "Move Your Feet", were pretty low, at least inasmuch as I figured at the time.

But here we are, and Junior Senior have not just produced a follow-up to their debut, but a damn good one as well. If the album looks kind of familiar, well, you can be forgiven -- Hey Hey My My Yo Yo was actually released way back in 2005. All the Kool Kids on your block probably already downloaded the album two years ago. It didn't really surprise me that the group got dumped by their US label: if an amateur like me could detect the reek of novelty, then the bigwigs up at Mercury probably felt absolutely no compunction about dropping our Dynamic Duo. (See, there are two of them: Senior, AKA Jeppe Laurson, and Junior, known to his mother as Jesper Mortensen. Senior is only actually about a year and a half older than Junior, in case you're wondering.) In any event, as much as I am enjoying Hey Hey My My Yo Yo now that I actually have a copy in my hot little hands (not one for illegal downloading am I, nor one for paying pricey import tariffs when the dollar is so damned weak), I can definitely understand why Mercury made the decision.

The way the American music industry works, an act like Junior Senior never had much chance to be anything more than a novelty one-off. There's just no room for this kind of weirdness on the charts, as worthy as it may be -- we've got the Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley and that's probably more pop weirdness than the House of Representatives is comfortable with. We have to keep our pop airwaves safe for self-serious R&B starlets and gritty thug crooners. So, after holding out for two stark and barren years, those of us who care have finally been rewarded with an American release of their sophomore album.

The album was worth the wait. I was joking a few sentences ago, but there was a grain of truth in the idea that these guys were just not built for lasting success in America. This is the kind of Pop music with a capital "P" that just doesn't go very far on supposed pop radio these days. I daresay there's even a hint of the dreaded power pop in Junior Senior's approach to relentlessly catchy summer music, samplers and breakdancing notwithstanding. If there's one thing that is almost certain to fall dead on American airwaves, it's classical pop music. The electronic elements that brought their first album comparisons to Fatboy Slim (although old Norm hasn't produced a song as good as "Move Your Feet" in a long time, it must be said) have been slightly downplayed in favor of a more traditionally pop sound.

This is not to say that the samplers are totally gone: the album opens with "Hip Hop a Lula", actually one of the weaker tracks here, built on the chassis of a classic roller-skating jam (even down to brief stabs of disco strings). But as soon as the album rolls into "Can I Get Get Get", things get really good. Neither Junior nor Senior are particularly good vocalists, it must be said (although they are good at singing the type of songs they sing, if that makes any sense). Their decision to bring in a number of guests really helps the album, in terms of opening up the musical palette. "Can I Get Get Get" features a lead vocal from Le Tigre's JD Samson, as well as backing vocals from the Velvelettes. Kate Pierson and Cindy WIlson of the B-52s shows up for the next track, "Take My Time", which is as classic a mid-tempo pop ballad as you are likely to hear for at least another week or so (when the next New Pornographers album drops).

Pierson and Wilson's guest spot is quite revealing, actually. Once you get past the novelty aspects of Junior Senior's appeal, their surprising continued relevance reminds the listener of nothing so much as the B-52s -- sure, a novelty act in the classic sense of the world, but one that is very seriously committed to using the novel aspects of pop music to build a lasting career. Whether or not we'll still be dancing to Junior Senior in 20 years like we still dance to "Rock Lobster" is certainly something that only time will tell, but I'd argue that the group have already written a handful of tracks that could easily assure them immortality in the nerd party rock hall of fame. One of these tracks is "Dance Chance Romance", featuring a guest appearance by Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna (all three members of Le Tigre appear throughout the album). Again, this is not really a song that either Junior or Senior would be able to sing, at least not as well -- they don't have the emotional range, for lack of a better term, to conjure up the same type of winning innocence that Hanna brings.

And it is definitely to their credit that the duo recognize and play to their strengths. Pure party music gets old after a while. Even dance music needs variation or it gets stale real quick: Junior Senior could easily have fallen off the face of history if they'd simply tried to replicate the success of their first album and come up stiff. There are a few bits of filler throughout that recall the more forgettable moments of their debut -- "Happy Rap", for instance, is pretty much exactly what you might expect from the title. But when they try they're actually pretty decent songwriters, and they're smart enough to surround themselves with musicians who can compliment their sound without dominating the record. Tracks like "No No No", with a retro-rock vibe reminiscent the OG girl-group sound of the early '60s, remind me of the Pipettes, another modern pop act finding success with a sharp modern take on archaic forms. But like the Pipettes, I don't expect to see Junior Senior racing up the pop charts anytime soon. It's probably for the best. As strange as it may seem, classical pop music has become something of an ascetic discipline, of limited appeal to all but the most devoted. Under this formulation, Junior Senior are practically fakirs.

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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