Kinnie Starr: Anything

When this Canadian born singer and emcee puts her spirit into her work, anything goes. Let's hope Anything goes platinum.

Kinnie Starr


Label: MapleMusic
US Release Date: 2006-08-15
UK Release Date: Available as import

After listening to Anything, Kinnie Starr's latest release, I've been telling everyone I can find to buy the CD when it comes out -- go to record stores, check the official website, search the Internet for legal downloads. One person had heard Ms. Starr's music during an episode of Showtime's The L Word. Another got me tangled up in an Abbott and Costello "who's-on-first-base" routine:

Other person: "What do you want me to listen to?"

Me: "Anything."

Other person: "Can you be more specific?"

Me: "Yes."

Other person: "You want me to listen to 'Yes'?"

Me: "No. Anything."

Other person: "Anything?"

Me: "Yes."

Other person [growing impatient]: I thought you didn't want me to listen to that!

And so on...

Everyone else pretty much wanted to know, "Who's Kinnie Starr?" I can't blame them, considering all the "Starr"s in world. There's Ringo Starr. There's Dove Starr and Harmony Starr. There's Garrison Starr. Can't forget Edwin Starr. Gang Starr is a legendary hip-hop group. Midnight Star was a cool R&B and dance band in the '80s. Brenda Starr ruled the comic strips. Kenneth Starr wrote that infamous erotic report of his investigation of the Clinton Administration. The odds of Kinnie Starr getting lost in the mix are certainly increased. It's almost as bad as the scene in White Men Can't Jump when Gloria (Rosie Perez) correctly answers the entire Jeopardy category of "Foods That Start With The Letter Q".

I'll take "Name That Starr" for a thousand, Alex.

Plus, I only knew a little about Miss Starr before I heard the new album, mostly simple stuff, like the fact that she's Canadian born, enjoys fusing hip-hop into her pop and rock sound, and that her full name is Alida Kinnie Starr. A few other tidbits came from television, interviews, and gossip, like her passion for sculpture and painting. Then there's her ability to speak English, French, and Spanish; in fact, she's been known to perform songs in either of the three. How about finding out that she performed in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity? Better yet, there's her love for De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising album while also loving Cyndi Lauper's single Time After Time. De La Soul and Cyndi Lauper? Listening to Kinnie Starr's album might be as close as I'm gonna get to finding a soul mate.

Of course, there's more to Kinnie Starr than this, but you don't have to read about it to learn it. All you have to do is listen to Anything (the album, that is, for Abbott and Costello fans) and you'll get a musical invitation into Kinnie Starr's world. Not just Kinnie Starr the musician; rather, it's about Kinnie Starr the individual, the human being, and artist. In this regard, the album is intensely personal. Listen to the songs and she'll tell you all about herself.

Pick anything from the 11-song set. Did you know Miss Starr's heritage included Native lineage on her father's side? Many of Anything's songs carry traits of traditional Indigenous music -- the chants, the airy melodies, the skillful instances of repetition. Even the cover art and liner notes reinforce the aboriginal atmosphere of the recordings. Plus, two songs ("Rock the Boat" and "Blackbrown Eyes") directly reference Starr's Native history. "Rock the Boat" showcases a rock 'n' rap exercise that appeals to anyone yearning to feel comfortable in his or her own skin. To the "aboriginal", she says, "I'm speaking directly to you":

full blood quarter third or sixteenth

Rez folk city folk blue eyes brown or green

Caucasian features or cheekbones that cut glass

Ignite the future joined by the past

Rise like the sun you already have begun

Blood boils even in the weakest of quantum

Stay strong help each other along

To every shade of red I dedicate this song

Later, "Blackbrown Eyes" finds our heroine searching for more information, from an "old graying auntie", for instance, who responds, "Hush now, Child" as the "child" wonders, "Hey now, how'd it come this far / Why don't we know who we are?" and observes, "Love changed hands from red to white / stories gone now in the night."

More personally revealing is the curiously titled "Sex in the Prairies", an interlude of sorts that wades casually into the electronica end of the music pool. With the monotone of an android, you hear Kinnie Starr welcoming "ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls" and thanking us for "buying, burning, or borrowing this CD". She goes on:

You have been listening in on

Miss Kinnie Starr's fourth album

Yeah, that's right…album number FOUR

Check the space beneath the pavement

If you haven't heard my name before

Want to know what her music sounds like? She describes it in "Sex in the Prairies" as a "rock 'n' roll folk hip-hop fusion" (as if the phrase "sex in the prairies" isn't descriptive enough). What's abundantly clear is that this isn't a debut album from a newbie (notice that "album number four" quip above); as Starr puts it, she's been rockin' this boat "since the streets of '96". Her first album was called Tidy (1997). After that, she released Tune-Up (2000) and Sun Again (2003). Given her longevity, you'd think we would've heard more about Miss Starr. What happened?

The answer could be imbedded in "Up in Smoke", a song about a lost opportunity. The song doesn't go into detail over what that opportunity might have been. Rather than lamenting the specifics, the song focuses on what it feels like to have what you want, only to lose it as quickly as it came:

You know that feeling

When it seems like everything is moving along

Just how you want it

Just how you want it

And then a little shift or landslide of change

And you're crying and screaming

And fighting and reeling

As the whole thing goes up in flames

And from there, "the whole thing" goes "up in smoke", leaving you with two choices: "It can make you sink or help you float". Sure, the song could be about anything (as the album title might lead us to believe), but my reaction to the song was, "Yikes…sounds like the record industry." Sure enough, press materials and interviews say Starr was inspired by a cousin's ill-fated dealings with the biz.

In this regard, Starr herself is no stranger to the quirks of her profession, as she had inked a deal with Mercury/Island/Def Jam back in 1997. When a well-known beer company (no need to provide free ad space by naming it) took over that group, Kinnie Starr felt like her opportunity was going down the drain and that her career wasn't getting the promotion it deserved. See, you can never, ever forget what A Tribe Called Quest said in "Check the Rhime": "Industry Rule Number 4,080, record company people are shady". And I believe it's Industry Rule Number 4,081 that says, "Reread Number 4,080". Sometimes, the problem has nothing to do with shady dealings; sometimes, it's just a matter of timing.

Even so, it can tick you off. Wanna know what Kinnie Starr sounds like when she's ticked off? Listen to "Step Back", a folksy hip-hop tune with an in-your-face chorus: "Step back got no more space for you / gonna get free from that sh*t you do". Here, somebody's got her nerves in a knot, prompting her critique of the unidentified "you" through drawn out and inverted verses:

You know it's too late -- you played your own fate

You closed your own gate -- sealed your checkmate

Curves got set straight -- fishin' don't take your bait

Won't stay up late -- wait while you hesitate

Memories cremate -- side pocket ball eight

You don't appreciate -- no room to debate

My eyes don't dilate

With its hard drums and sharp guitar strumming, "Step Back" is a catchy number.

Same thing goes for the title track, "Anything", an upbeat rock jam dedicated to the power of positive thinking ("I can dream / I can be anything"). Yet, as surely as she can drench her guitars in positivism, Starr's moody side comes out on songs like "Please Hold My Hand" and "Wind In Your Sail". On "Please Hold My Hand", track six on the album, Starr throws a quiet and somber curveball to the rock 'n' roll and hip-hop vibe she cultivated in the first five tunes. Her croon, as revealing as it is haunting, floats effortlessly over waves of guitar and percussion, similar in many ways to songs by Wendy & Lisa from their Girl Bros. album. "Please Hold My Hand" is a plea of sorts, sung from the perspective of one who knows she pushes others away and that she can be a "stubborn girl". By contrast, "Wind In Your Sail" takes that same type of persona and makes it promise to do better, to "try to be a much better friend".

Best of all, Anything tells us and shows us what an intriguing artist and songwriter Kinnie Starr is. When she's leaning toward a positive message, she never goes so far as to become preachy. Her hip-hop musings are sometimes more on the cutesy side than hardcore, but she knows what she's doing and what she wants to say. When her mood ebbs toward moodier tunes and minor chords, she stays away from melodrama. Even her '80s bubble gum pop tune, La Le La La, works like a sly nod to Cyndi Lauper's She Bop. Basically, it's exactly like she said: she still serving up the right mix.


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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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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