Music

Kid Icarus: The Metal West

Mike Schiller

The Metal West is notable mostly for its creator's chosen band name, which is far from enough to justify its existence.


Kid Icarus

The Metal West

Label: Summersteps
US Release Date: 2005-07-19
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It could be a sign of my age, or my inherent dorkiness, or both, but I must admit that it's a little bit unnerving to find a do-it-yourself indie rocker that names his band after an old 8-bit Nintendo game that I absolutely loved as a child. The name? Kid Icarus. To those unfamiliar with the game, the name will evoke the tragic figure of the boy who flew too high, but it is the figure of the game that likely plays closer to vocalist/songwriter/primary instrumentalist Eric Schlittler's idea of the band. You see, as with many games of that day, the protagonist of Kid Icarus packs a big punch in a small package, persevering against seemingly insurmountable odds, against all manner of monsters and assorted baddies. This sort of metaphor, where a single figure can carry on in the face of extreme adversity, is surely an appealing one to a largely bedroom-bound independent artist.

The Metal West is actually Schlittler's third full-length CD of material as Kid Icarus, and he has released a number of self-produced cassettes of his material as well. The difference between The Metal West and everything that came before it, however, is that the good Kid has finally decided to step up into the world of modern-day recording techniques, giving him his best shot thus far at being heard outside of his close friends and too-hip-for-school blogs.

The end result of this upgrade to "hi-fi" is still something that sounds decidedly "lo-fi" when compared to much of the modern musical landscape. We can hear fingers move upon fret boards, the vocals aren't always on-pitch, and the instrumental palette is often as limited as one would expect from an entity that is largely a one-man-band. The sound is nothing special. What Schlittler has going for him is an obvious enthusiasm for his trade, as he's someone who obviously has a lot of love for his music, someone who's willing to take it into places both familiar and unknown. Can such love sustain a whole album?

Not really.

Schlittler opens The Metal West with a full-band number called "Beekeepers on the Edge of Town", which is a rockin' little number that he plays with his buddies Ted Baird (bass) and Thad Moyer (drums). This song is the most obvious choice for a possible hit, as it's got an overbearing garage sound to it with a simultaneously infectious and obnoxious guitar riff driving it forward -- something along the lines of what the Hives would sound like if Howlin' Pelle was Dronin' Pelle. The second track, "A Retail Hell", is a nice two-guitar acoustic tune about the mundane routine of everyday life that would sound a bit like Bright Eyes if Conor Oberst sang more than he emoted. After those two fairly normal tracks, however, Schlittler goes off on an experimental tangent, and it's in the experimental work that he starts to lose his listeners.

It's not that being experimental is necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, experimentalism and the willingness to muck around a bit with a known formula is the key to most great art. In this case, however, it seems that most of the experiments would have been better served as permanent residents of Schlittler's head, never to see the light of day. For one, he tries to incorporate other instruments such as the piano, courtesy of one Chuck Keller. Keller's piano lines are both simplistic and mixed way too loud in songs like "My Anthracite Headache" and "Her Song for Beth and the Sideshow", turning them into distracting focal points rather than pleasing background filler. Likewise, the harmonicas in the title track are nice enough, but they are quickly ditched in favor of seven minutes of acoustic strumming and Neil Young-style washes of distorted guitar. "Perils of Dating in 1999" even references the Cars a bit with its staccato guitar riff and poppy feel, but the hook's not catchy enough for a proper homage, and the sloppy guitars never would have gotten past Ric Ocasek's quality control sensor.

Aside from a few tight, solid tunes, the rest of the album veers toward those attempts to expand the basic rock sound, and as such, The Metal West is a frustrating listen. For all of Schlittler's noodling, it doesn't come off as terribly different from any other "indie rock" album out there. For all of the obvious high aspirations of the artists involved, the music of Kid Icarus is only truly necessary for one of those forced moments of media synchronicity; that is, using The Metal West as a soundtrack while playing the Nintendo version of Kid Icarus. Even so, expecting anyone to buy it for such purposes is a bit of a stretch.

4

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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