Reviews

Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp

Though definitely dated in its approach to the material, and losing a bit of its laughable luster along the way, Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp still stands as a wonderful reminder of the days when being an operative was the height of considered cool.


Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp

Distributor: Image Entertainment
Cast: Dayton Allen, Mel Blanc, Joan Gerber, Bernie Kopell
Length: 281
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: ABC
First date: 1970-09-12
UK Release Date: 2006-06-13
US Release Date: 2006-06-13
Last date: 1972-05-30
Amazon

It's all James Bonds' fault. Actually, Maxwell Smart is equally to blame. While we're at it, we might as well toss in the Man / Girl from U.N.C.L.E. for their culpability, as well. Thanks to the Cold War, in combination with the rising nuclear tensions between nations, America got all catawampus over spying and espionage a few decades back. In fact, throughout the '60s and early '70s, the secret agent began taking over most of the media. Matt Helm styled spoofs found funny bones commonality in the pages of Mad Magazine, where Antonio Prohias worked out the black / white realities of the situation with his seminal Spy vs. Spy. Granted, Sean Connery's suave sophisticate persona was what drove most cinema turnstiles crazy, but an undercover life still fueled many an adolescent imagination.

It's no surprise then, that ABC tried to tap into the growing interest in covert operations with its silly spy comedy, Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp. That's right -- it was the monkey's turn to play undercover operative, with hopes that the jokey juxtaposition of spy with simian would create pure cartoonish comedy gold. Now out on DVD from Image Entertainment, a collection of 22 Link episodes argues for the concept's effectiveness as half-baked hilarity. The set up was simple. Lancelot Link worked for A.P.E., otherwise known as the Agency to Prevent Evil. At his side was girlfriend / fellow agent Mata Hairi, and both answered to bumbling bureau chief Commander Darwin (wink).

Naturally, where there is good, wickedness can't be far behind. C.H.U.M.P. -- the Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan -- run by the ruthless Baron Von Butcher, was constantly bent on destroying A.P.E. and its allies. With talented troublemakers like Creto, Wang Fu, the Duchess, Ali Assa Seen, and Dr. Strangemind on their side, the stage was set for some oddball humor hijinx. But there was more than just primate puns and chimp craziness on tap. Lance and the gang were also part-time rock musicians, and every episode featured our hero and his backup band, the Evolution Revolution, pumping out another bubblegum pop song.

From all outside appearance, Lance Link was just another shallow circus act shifted to the small screen for the pleasure of the pipsqueak demographic. The truth, however, is a little more complicated. This wasn't just some dumb monkey show. It was created by TV sketch comedy veterans Mike Marmer and Stan Burns, who had worked for such laugh luminaries as Flip Wilson and The Smothers Brothers. They were also part of the pack of writers that helped Mel Brooks bring Get Smart to life. After that show ended its five year run, Marmer and Burns pitched this new program to the networks. They envisioned an hour long variety format, where cartoons would sit comfortably along side the musical numbers, spy stuff, and various comedic blackouts.

The result was something both juvenile and joyous, a clever combination of low brown buffoonery and high brow spoofing. Link is clearly conceived as an extension of Marmer and Burns Smart satire, using the hip tone and geek-inspired gadgetry that always drove the specific genre. Link is more Bogart than Bond, however, his voice a sly imitation of the famous Hollywood heavy. Mata, on the other hand, appears to be pre-dating Edith Bunker in her grating, girlie whine. It's a voice that only a mother -- or in this case, another monkey -- could endure. Naturally Darwin is a bit of a British prude, while all the villains are variations on the recognized enemies of Freedom circa 1970. You will hear some politically incorrect voices for Chinese, German and Russian agents, but there is never an intent toward intolerance. This is over the top and dopey, not oppressive and derogatory. Besides, its chimps dressed up like humans? How harmful can that be?

Such seriousness becomes even sillier as the episodes play out. Using a Batman camp approach to its subject matter, and more groan-inducing gags than a Las Vegas lounge act, Link loved to take on current trends and pop culture constants. All throughout the 22 episodes here (actually, there are only 11 full shows -- the DVD cuts each one in half to insert the musical numbers) we see riffs on Frankie and Annette ("The Surfing Spy"), westerns ("Bonana"), auto racing ("The Great, Great Race") and biker gangs ("The Mysterious Motorcycle Menace"). Frequently, we get pure straight ahead farce: "Lone A.P.E."'s chicken rustling plot; the sci-fi silliness of "The Reluctant Robot"; the pucker power of ripe citrus in the lemon laced "Sour Taste of Success".

Yet the majority of Marmer and Burn's humor lies in biting the spy world directly in the hand that feeds it. All throughout this collection we see jokes made at the expense of espionage givens like 'the mastery of disguise' ("The Great Double, Double Cross") in the connection to a country's crowned head ("The Royal Foil") or the involvement of outside scientists or explorers ("Lance of Arabia"). Sure, the stories have been simplified to allow children easier access to the material, but Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp never really played down to its target audience. Instead, it attempted to keep things clever -- at least, within a certain set of age bracket limits -- sprinkling each show with enough post-preschool humor to keep the tweens entertained.

This is also clear from the inclusion of music into the mix. Lancelot Link was influenced by the success of another pop culture phenomenon -- and amazingly enough, it wasn't The Monkees. No, The Archies, an animated version of the comic book staple, had scored a number one hit with a song from the show, a glorious aural gobstopper entitled "Sugar Sugar". It was the hit heard round the industry, and before long, every kid vid entry had to have a rock 'n' roll dynamic. In Link's case, monkeys could be just as easily trained to lip sync as fake act, so out came the psychedelic duds, on came the cute, clever earworms. For many older members of the audience, the music was the most important part of the series, and a few of the tunes -- "Sha-La Love You" and "Rollin' in the Clover" are quite catchy. Image most certainly agrees -- the only bonus feature they provide on either disc is an "instant access" menu button, allowing you to play just the songs.

Though definitely dated in its approach to the material, and losing a bit of its laughable luster along the way, Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp still stands as a wonderful reminder of the days when being an operative was the height of considered cool. Looking back, much of the so-called spy chic of the era now looks horribly hackneyed, and downright dumb. At least Marmer and Burns made no bones about their series' substantial stupidity. It was built into every episode of this clever cult classic. In the world of primate agent provocateurs, Lance is indeed the merry missing Link.

6

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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