Music

Kansas: Kansas [reissue]

Hunter Felt

Kansas

Kansas [reissue]

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Thanks to increasingly narrow classic rock playlists, people will soon only know Kansas from on-the-hour-every-hour playings of "Dust in the Wind" and "Carry on Wayward Son". Even the sprightly "Point of Know Return" has fallen from the Clear Channel radar, leaving the casual radio listener's knowledge of this long-running band limited to a sappy ballad immortalized by Will Ferrell and the most bombastic arena rock epic this side of Styx. In celebration of Kansas's 30th anniversary, Legacy is attempting to halt this trend by reissuing some of the group's earlier albums, portraying Kansas as one of the more adventurous, if not most consistent, American rock bands of the time.

Their self-titled debut, impeccably remastered, shows the band unsure of its direction. Of its eight tracks, four are straightforward rock songs, albeit with violin solos, while the other four are complex prog rock epics filled with quasi-spiritual lyrics and keyboard solos between every other verse. Only on the opening "Can I Tell You" does the band find a way to merge these styles, as they would on their more successful albums. Driven by Phil Ehart's drums and the band's Yes-like harmony, "Can I Tell You" delivers a manifesto on free will that also doubles as an effective arena rocker. By, the next number, the album highlight "Bringing It Back", about a drug run turned sour, all aspirations to wisdom and knowledge disappear in a tale sung from a jail cell. Robbie Steinhardt's distinctive violin playing is the only "artsy" touch on this Allman Brothers-esque blues rocker, and even he manages to play like the violin was created for the explicit purpose of playing down-and-dirty rock and roll.

With the exception of the beautiful mid-tempo "The Pilgrimage", the rest of the album does not live up to the promise of the opening numbers. "Lonely Wind" is a dry run for "Dust in the Wind", a melancholy ballad that mostly acts to ease the transition from the boogie of "Bringing It Back" to the full-on prog rock epics "Belexis" and "Journey from Mariabronn". "Belexis" is only about four minutes long, but is stuffed with so much extraneous soloing that it seems at least eight. The longer "Journey from Mariabronn" works better, but Kansas's egregious overuse of falsettos and symphonic keyboard flourishes make it painfully obvious that the band's earliest goal was to become the American equivalent to Yes.

Of course, these tracks are almost salvaged by the band's formidable dexterity. While much of what passed for soloing during the golden age of prog was nothing more than wankery for wankery's sake, nearly all the solos on Kansas work in service of their respective songs. The problem, unfortunately, is that the songs themselves are not worthy of the soloing. In the absent of memorable hooks or originality, the band has to work overtime to keep the audience's interest. The nine-minute "Apercu" is the epitome of this problem: the improvisations are terrific, the song proper is immediately forgettable.

Even the band's talent cannot save the original album's closer, the dreadful period piece "Death of Mother Nature Suite". The track is just as dated as the title suggests: the opening begins with an indictment of mankind's treatment of nature which ends with a bloodcurdling shriek of "AND NOW SHE'S GOING TO DIE!" that would put Spinal Tap to shame. The "suite's" plodding rhythms and hopelessly banal lyrics could have been a hint that Kansas was willing to go the insufferable art-rock route, as they did on their next album Song for America, and eschew the more interesting arena-prog approach of "Can I Tell You". Thankfully the reissue appends an astounding nine-minute live version of "Bringing It Back" that shows the band using the tricks they learned about musicianship from art rock and applying them to basic nitty gritty rock and roll. Kansas gained fame not from their uneven early studio albums, but their live shows, and this song are such an improvement over the already impressive studio take that it makes me wish Legacy had included a few live takes of one of the album's many quasi-majestic epics. Perhaps "Death of Mother Nature Suite" or "Belexis" lost something without the support of a live audience. As it is, Kansas is a fascinating, and frustrating, look at an underrated band's baby steps, notable for a few minor gems that the radio will never play.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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