Reviews

Bob Mould + Curt Kirkwood

Whitney Strub

With all the 'new' '80s bands clogging up the works, it's nice to know that a few originals remain. Of course, Curt Kirkwood and Bob Mould have made a few changes since 1985.

Bob Mould + Curt Kirkwood

Bob Mould + Curt Kirkwood

City: Hollywood, CA
Venue: The Troubadour
Date: 2006-02-10

With all the "new" new wave bands zipping through the mainstream's Xerox machine, it's heartening to know that at least a few originals remain. Of course, Curt Kirkwood and Bob Mould were never new wave, and they've each made a few changes since 1985. Rather than acting as frontmen for the Meat Puppets and Hüsker Dü respectively, these former SST labelmates now go it alone. The drugs are gone too: the once-trippy Kirkwood has traded his high times for clarity, and the formerly speed-hopped Mould has long since embraced the concept of sleep (no more 80-hour recording sessions or straight-through cross-country tours). While both artists have explored an array of genres and sounds in the past quarter-century, solo they each broke from the sounds that most associate with their careers. Kirkwood traded in the Meat Puppets' punky psychedelia for a more folky, acoustic approach. Mould, meanwhile, used a single electric guitar to carry him through both old and new tunes. Of course, "some things," as Kirkwood once croaked on the Meat Puppets' sole radio semi-hit "Backwater", "will never change", and one of those things is the fanbase: disproportionately male, predominantly middle-aged, these guys looked like they had been fans since Hüsker Dü'sZen Arcade hit the shelves in 1984. As such, the crowd stood a welcomed distance from the too-pervasive Hollywood hipster set. We all watched with rapt, respectful attention though -- no heckling here.


Kirkwood
Mould was the clear draw, but Kirkwood still played well to the slowly filling room. Alternating between classic Meat Puppets songs and material from his new solo album Snow, Kirkwood showed he still knows how to build momentum, occasionally letting loose with a wild howl before dropping off and rebuilding from a quiet calm. His take on the Puppets' "Plateau" brought forth memories of Nirvana's unplugged rendition, but Kirkwood gracefully reclaimed his song without comment. The quality of his new tunes suggests that his years spent in the musical wilderness are finally drawing to a close. Mould hit the stage to reverent applause, kicking things off with the one-two punch of "Wishing Well" and "Hear Me Calling" Both lent themselves to his stripped-down approach, as did the next song, "Hoover Dam", from his post-Hüsker band Sugar. Mould's historic reluctance to linger on his past has been dispensed for this tour, so we also got the 1989 gem "See a Little Light", accompanied by a corny but cute switching on of the house lights. The strength of the material, the passion in Mould's voice, and the artist's fairly recent conversion from taciturn figure to personable stage presence all contributed to a stellar forty-five minutes. Mould even joked about his stiff legs after a hard workout, and he tried out a new song whose lyrics escaped him halfway through. But as he turned his attention toward material from last year's Body of Song, Mould's solo approach showed its limitations. The new album, recorded with former Sugar bassist David Barbe and ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, has been billed as Mould's return to standard rock form, after 2002's unfairly maligned electronic Modulate, and he had been touring with a full band. Its presence was sorely missed as Mould turned to the new songs and hit the distortion pedal. Without Barbe's pulsating bass and Canty's thundering backbeat, "Circles" and "Paralyzed" sounded woefully incomplete. Mould clearly recognized the parameters of his solo framework, declining to include the raging "Underneath Days" or the bass-driven "Always Tomorrow". The Mould obsessives (including myself) who made up much of the audience clearly wouldn't have cared if he had started pulling out Train covers (the bland MOR band recently covered his "If I Can't Change Your Mind", which he mentioned with good-natured humor, grateful for the royalties). But for the less fanatical, the show dragged a bit; my friend found Mould an impressive performer but wished he hadn't gone on for so long. The quick strums of the classic Hüsker songs near the set's end worked more effectively, and Mould closed in true DIY fashion: not only did he serve as his own roadie -- setting up and taking down his equipment -- he also worked as his own merch guy, selling work by his techno side project LoudBomb (check the anagram) and a 1998 live album, each for a ridiculously low $5. He signed my Warehouse: Songs and Stories sleeve and seemed genuinely appreciative when I blurted out my incoherent thanks. I've now got Grant Hart's signature on the back and Mould's on the front. I'll have to go to Minnesota to get Greg Norton's. It'd be nice if were easier, but since there will never be a Hüsker Dü reunion, I'll take what I can get.

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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