Music

Motor: Unhuman

This is as far into the future as music goes, anything less would almost by definition seem a step backwards.


Motor

Unhuman

Label: Novamute
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: 2007-05-21
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Last year Motor came out of nowhere to release Klunk, an album of hard club-oriented techno that landed at #2 on PopMatters' Best Electronic Music list for 2006. At the time -- not actually very long ago! -- I had a difficult time quantifying just exactly how significant Klunk actually was. Looking back on what I wrote, I find myself falling back less on effective rhetoric or prosody and more on simple adjectives: "hard, throbbing, raw, powerful... unadorned, unmixed, uncut. Simply powerful." (Notice I said powerful twice?) It's hard to argue with that assessment in hindsight, but it's also not hard to see that the essential charms of an act like Motor resist any kind of simple parsing. On the one hand the music is almost comically simple in places, repetitive motifs played out to excess over the course of five or six minutes, laid atop brutal, jackhammer-subtle beats. But such a reductive description does very little to convey just how ineffably pleasurable such an experience actually is.

We're back less than a year later with Motor's sophomore release, Unhuman, and the pleasures have remained essentially unchanged. The beats are still hard, the acid 303 riffs still razor sharp, the futuristic decadence still undimmed by moderation or modesty. The temptation exists, after listening to the album a few times, to criticize Motor for delivering a follow-up so close in spirit and execution to their debut as to be, in practice, almost indistinguishable. I wouldn't be the first person to note the casual hypocrisy of rock critics who criticize artists from straying too much from accepted templates will also criticizing those same acts for not straying far enough (one need look no further than the inverted reactions to the Strokes' second and third album to see this phenomenon at work).

I think that Motor present the rare and happy spectacle of an act who are so good at what they do that you can't really wish they did anything whatsoever differently; it would be churlish to wish for, say, downtempo interlude or a guest vocalist. They've come so close to the Platonic ideal for this particular brand of music that it is difficult to imagine what they would even do to expand their sound without diluting it: this is as far into the future as music goes, anything less would almost by definition seem a step backwards.

Which is not to imply that the sound is necessarily limited. One only needs to hear a track like "Night Drive", with its pitch-perfect evocation of early Detroit techno a la Derrick May by way of Orbital, to see just how flexible the template actually is. "20 Volts of Steel" is as hard as anything on the album, hearkening back to the days of early '90s industrial dance like Nitzer Ebb in both tone and execution. "Flashback" is almost literally what is says -- an intricate flashback to post-Detroit electro and the early wave of British acid that blossomed with the coming of rave. Think early LFO (the Warp act, not the "Summer Girls" idiots) and you probably have a good idea.

Unhuman avoids falling into the trap of mere retro mummery by virtue of the sheer intelligence harnessed to the purpose of making hardcore dance music. As much as I love electronic music in all its forms, one of the biggest disappointments of the last few years has been the almost wholesale abandonment of the harder dance sound by the progressive electronic establishment. The cheese has always dominated the dance charts, but there have been fewer and fewer intelligent acts in recent years that have even tried to appeal to the middle path -- where are the heirs to Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers, acts that realized that powerful and energetic dance music could be powerfully intelligent as well? Where is the ecstatic application of repetitious rhythm and psychedelic melody that made dance music (to me) the most exciting genre of the '90s?

The body is not yet cold, there's still a pulse, and that pulse is thrumming to the beat of Unhuman. There aren't likely to be many tracks this year as singularly awesome as "Sikk", which manages to be not merely a Plastikman homage but a glorious evocation of peak-hour dance-floor transcendence in its own right. This is fearsome smart music, aggressive and cerebral in equal proportions. I love Richie Hawtin to death but I think he and his spiritual cohorts at the Kompakt label have taken the small-scale intricacy of minimal house about as far as it can go. There's room again for the broad gesture and the mighty bassline -- take a look at the Field's From Here to Sublime for further evidence that emotional, evocative dance music is alive and well, and hasn't been entirely strangled to death by the madding crowds at Ibiza. Motor have arrived none to soon, and Unhuman, for all its effortless virtuosity, is exactly what we need.

8

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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