Music

Korpiklaani: Korven Kuningas

Another year, another joyous blast of humppa from the perpetually lovable Korpiklaani.


Korpiklaani

Korven Kuningas

Label: Nuclear Blast
US Release Date: 2008-03-25
UK Release Date: 2008-03-24
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Korpiklaani is as good at capturing the attention of new listeners as any band. The Finnish sextet lures us with the novel idea of combining energetic thrash metal with the polka-derived humppa of their homeland, boisterous guitar riffs colliding with lively accordion and jouhikko melodies, their raucous odes to beer and beer-fueled revelry coaxing a reaction that starts as a furtive, flabbergasted smile and ends up being a full-on grin four minutes later. Then, once they've commanded our attention, the guys settle in and prove to one and all that this stuff is no novelty whatsoever. Delving into such themes as paganism, ancient Nordic culture, and folk balladry, we discover, much to our shock, that this seemingly awkward blend of disparate musical styles works astonishingly well. It's music with genuine soul and passion, the kind of stuff that makes your chest swell, even if you have no idea what the hell the Finnish lyrics mean.

Having emerged as the undisputed champs of folk metal thanks to a mightily impressive run of five albums, including four in the last three years, the wildly prolific Korpiklaani (that's "forest clan" in Finnish, in case you're curious) has now set their sights a little higher, having made the move from reputable pagan metal purveyor Napalm Records to Nuclear Blast, one of the metal world's heavy hitters. Folk/pagan metal, especially that of the humppa variety, remains a somewhat small niche (the only other major like-minded band being Finntroll), but considering how Korpiklaani can so adeptly evoke the drunken soul of the Pogues, the battle epics of Manowar, and the rousing anthems of Accept -- often all at the same time -- without sounding the least bit self-parodical, the German label clearly knows that if there's one band of accordion-wielding headbangers with the ability to achieve crossover success, it's these dudes. Admirably, the band holds up their end of the bargain on their new album Korven Kuningas.

Perhaps aware that they're on the same label as such major acts as Meshuggah, Blind Guardian, Dimmu Borgir, and Nile, Korpiklaani takes a considerably more serious approach compared to previous efforts. Most noticeable is the lack of the ubiquitous drinking anthem. While past albums boasted such fabulously intoxicating songs as "Wooden Pints", "Beer Beer", "Happy Little Boozer", and "Let's Drink", the approach on Korven Kuningas might seem more sober than usual, but it's by no means any less energetic. In fact, the band wastes no time getting the festivities going, as "Tapparauta" (meaning "Killing Iron", according to Wikipedia) bursts out of the gate with its furious thrash picking, fiddle melodies, and the crazed, chanted, pub-style singing that has become the band's hallmark. "Metsämies" follows suit with its joyous vocal melody, accordion, and 2/4 humppa beat, while the whimsical flute, mandolin, and blazing speed of "Kantaiso" and "Runamoine" hearken back to the glory days of folk metal pioneers Skyclad.

As is always the case, it's when Korpiklaani shifts gears and focuses on the more understated fare that the band's versatility wins us over. The drone of a jouhikko drives "Northern Fall", as lead vocalist/guitarist Jonne Järvelä launches into his "yoiking", the chanted Sami singing style that bears a striking resemblance to Native North American chanting. "Ali Jäisten Vetten" slows things down a touch, allowing fiddle and accordion to carry the song, but the acoustic "Gods on Fire" takes things several steps further, Jarvela's gravelly growl managing to add even more poignancy to an already lovely track. Multi-instrumentalist Jaakko Lemmetty and accordionist Juho Kauppinen both shine on the instrumental title track, and similarly, the rousing jig of "Shall We Take a Turn" lightens the mood considerably.

With Korven Kuningas being such a high-profile release on such a big record label, Korpiklaani does let their ambition get the best of them on a few occasions. The rustic "Keep on Galloping" lurches along, its melody not as strong as the other tracks, and Jarvela's heavily accented English (including a charming mispronunciation of "galloping") turns out to be a distraction, proof they're a better band when they sing in their native tongue. Placed right in the middle of the album, bonus track "Nuolet Nomalan" is an awkward fit, its guitar-centric arrangement clashing with the other tracks. Lastly, while the first five minutes of the closing title track are fantastic, it closes with 16 stultifying minutes of a repeated two-beat drum pattern that overstays its welcome quickly.

Last year's Tervaskanto saw Korpiklaani coming as close to perfecting their formula as they ever have, and although Korven Kuningas tries a little too hard to impress at times, it's nevertheless impossible to hate the album. This is joyous music, plain and simple, and the band has become so refined at their craft so quickly, so prolifically, that a year without new humppa from the crazed Finns just wouldn't feel right, not to mention seem awfully boring.

7

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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