Music

Mando Diao: Ode to Ochrasy

Swedish garage rockers use their run-ins with lowlifes and weirdos on the road to help fuel their third full length.


Mando Diao

Ode to Ochrasy

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2007-04-24
UK Release Date: 2006-10-09
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A lot has changed since Mando Diao came bursting on the scene in 2003 with Bring 'Em In. Their contemporaries and competitors have either faded away (the Vines), gone into hibernation (the Strokes), or are hard at work on their next album (the Hives). Even the industry has changed, with the plethora of sneering garage bands replaced with exuberantly theatrical emo (My Chemical Romance) or the next generation of pop punk (Fall Out Boy). Certainly, whatever market that Mando Diao could've approached at a mainstream level four years ago has been narrowed into a distinct niche. Realizing this, the band, who appeared in a faux papparazi-styled photo on the cover of Bring 'Em In, and then in the boozy twilight of a pub on the front of Hurricane Bar, are nowhere to be found on the cover art for Ode to Ochrasy. Instead, we get an abstract painting that perhaps best describes the creative energy used to write the album.

If you're having trouble placing the word "ochrasy", don't worry -- it's made up. The band invented the word to describe the odd characters hanging around after their concerts during their support tour for Hurricane Bar. As anyone who has played in a band knows (and to shamelessly borrow a Simpsons reference), "ochrasy" is a perfectly cromulent word. The people still sitting at the bar or shooting pool while you're loading out gear aren't fans. They are the curious people who seem to exist only between night and morning, that odd time when you should be sleeping but find yourself awake. Junkies ("Josephine"), killers ("Killer Kaczynski"), and even hockey legends ("Welcome Home, Luc Robitaille") all populate the album. Yet despite the upbeat attitude, the band notes in their press material that "you won't find any happy lyrics on the album."

And the album does have an odd duality. The production, helmed by former Soundtrack of Our Lives member Bjorn Olsson, is distinctly less constrained to the period contexts of earlier Mando Diao albums, and the band seems looser and more carefree here. There is a collective excitement of playing together that can be felt throughout, and it seems early concerns about sticking to a stylized sonic aesthetic have been dismissed. However, lyrically, the band seem to want to be anywhere else but on the road. "Amsterdam", a city built for the excesses of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, seems to have made the group paranoid: "When I came to in Amsterdam / The hotel showed a movie / With Marlon Brando and his friend Pacino / Well I thought that this is nice / And I'm sure I can relax now / But suddenly the room was full of demons / I escaped through the window / Almost ran a mile away / I had nowhere to go".

But don't be fooled -- most of the songs are ultimately about girls and their troubled relationships with them, however, as they note in "Tony Zoulias (Lustful Life)" (named after a Swedish hip-hop DJ), you cant' blame them for who they are: "And if you ever see me without home / You know that's cause I want it so / I just like to live a little lustful life / And if it's lightning on a sunny day / You know that's 'cause I want my way / I just like to live a little lustful life". Yet in the end, despite the girl troubles being on the road causes for the band and the weirdos they encounter, the title track has the band dreaming about getting back out on stages around the world: "And I'm dreaming 'bout times / Times that are gone / Times when I lived alone / In my own land called ochrasy / That place was everything to me".

That said, despite the interesting lyrical concept and the freer production values, Ode to Ochrasy is decidedly dull. Though the album runs at a brief forty one minutes, the fourteen tracks crammed into the running time make the disc feel too long. The tracks blend into one another, and even though the band has Bjorn Dixgard and Gustaf Noren splitting lead vocal duties, they are both faceless singers. They don't have the dynamic difference of a Noel and Liam Gallagher to make it worth paying attention to who is singing what. For all of the album's ambitions of breaking the mold, Mando Diao are still ultimately confined to it. The Kinks/Zombies vibe is still distinctly felt. Unlike their Swedish brethern the Hives, who with the unbelievably overlooked Tyrannosaurus Hives elevated themselves into another strata somewhere between James Brown and Booker T and the MGs, Mando Diao have yet to offer enough to separate themselves from the pack. Hopefully, this next year on the road will have them return home with something more unique to say.

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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