Music

Lewis Taylor: The Lost Album

Lewis Taylor's admirable perseverance begets a modern day masterpiece.


Lewis Taylor

The Lost Album

Label: HackTone
US Release Date: 2007-01-30
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21
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First things first, The Lost Album is not Stoned (2005). Second, it's not really a new album. In fact, it's difficult to know how to place The Lost Album at first: an album of late '90s demos that were re-recorded in 2004 to follow-up the UK release of Stoned and is available in the U.S. only three years after the fact. Those who discovered Lewis Taylor through the exceptional Stoned album might be taken aback. Whereas Stoned was steeped in psychedelic soul, The Lost Album owes itself to an altogether different style: a mix of mid-'70s Southern California rock and British symphonic-pop. Like the R&B influences on Stoned, Taylor makes this unique fusion his very own, underscoring the unpredictable mutability of a criminally underappreciated artist.

"Lost" connotes a few things here. The retro cover art, for one, gives the impression that The Lost Album is a "lost" gem from three decades ago, particularly since it's packaged as a mini-gatefold LP with a brown inner sleeve to protect the disc (given that some of these songs recall the cream of classic ELO and Supertramp, it's really not an unrealistic conclusion to make). Second, had Taylor and his writing partner Sabina Smyth not revisited these decade-old demos, rejected by Island Records for not being "soulful" enough, these songs would be "lost". (When he formed his own Slow Reality imprint, Taylor no longer had to sacrifice his artistic integrity and was free to create and compose in any style he fancied.) But it's a different kind of "lost" that differentiates this album from anything you might hear in 2007. In staying true to how Taylor and Smyth envisioned these songs, they have crafted an album of scintillating soundscapes that are so consuming of the senses, one could get "lost" listening to them.

The opening track, "Listen Here", prepares the listener for an unforgettable journey. Taylor's falsetto fades up from a sparkling nether land of shiny harpsichords: "Show me a fool who'll believe it/Is it a fantasy?/Is it real?/Maybe you don't understand it/Out of my head is the way I feel". Knowing the back story about this album, it's tempting to interpret the lyrics as a reaction to the music executives who wanted to box Taylor in as a blue-eyed soul messiah after scoring success with Lewis Taylor (1996). "I'm not about to throw it all away/I really think I know just what I’m doing/And all I want you to do/Listen here for a little while", he sings. The song transitions from an ebullient plea to a vociferous command -- "Listen!" -- as a cacophonous chorus of guitars take hold of the song. No, Taylor will not be boxed in and you'd do well to heed his order.

Following "Listen Here", Taylor sings "Hide Your Heart Away" in a lower than usual vocal register. The mid-tempo groove careens into rock territory when Taylor exclaims to a waffling lover, "It's not the ideal love affair you dreamed about this time around". The intensity heightens and the multi-layered harmonies soar right along with the guitars. This is the type of song one disturbs neighbors with at midnight. (On a personal note, "Hide Your Heart Away" is my reason to wake up in the morning.)

It's obvious by track three that the excellence of this album is anchored by a song sequence that doesn't overstay one mood too long. "The Leader of the Band", for example, is a piano-based piece of pop-rock perfection that follows the fireworks of "Hide Your Heart Away" but doesn't steal its thunder. Though Taylor may not have the strongest set of pipes, his excellent songwriting and production skills more than compensate. The album's centerpiece ballad, "Let's Hope Nobody Finds Us", hooks immediately with a beautiful phrase that may look odd in print but sounds heavenly on record: "Doo-doo-doo-ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh". Taylor is so enraptured by love that he savors each word, drawing out the vowel sounds as he sings. The way he vocalizes "I want to get down and pray (a love like ours) won't fade away" is like early morning dew shimmering on the album cover's palm fronds. A far different mood encompasses the trippy groove of "Yeah". One vividly pictures dry ice floating across a stage bathed in pink and blue spotlights during the guitar solo, bringing to mind the bombastic stage shows of the late 1970s. Each of these songs bring the listener to a different point on Taylor's compass. Consequently, The Lost Album never plateaus.

To say this album gets better with each listen is both a cliché and an understatement. After a few spins, one eventually notices that "Say I Love You" has enough hooks to fill three songs, that "See My Way" is a clever diatribe against the clueless gatekeepers of the music industry, and that "One More Mystery" is a thematic bookend to "Listen Here" (it also just might bring a tear to your eye). That Island Records rejected these songs a decade ago proves the short-sightedness of that label and the genius of David Gorman and Michael Nieves at HackTone for honoring Taylor's talent. Ultimately, Lewis Taylor's admirable perseverance has begotten a modern day masterpiece.

9

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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