TV

Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 7 - "h4ndshake.sme"

Sean Fennell

Mr. Robot is up to its same old tricks, with a much less effective result, in a landscape-shifting episode.


Mr. Robot

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Remi Malek, Portia Doubleday, Christian Slater
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 7 - "h4ndshake.sme"
Network: USA
Air Date: 2016-08-17
Amazon

There you have it, they've done it again. Creator/director/showrunner Sam Esmail has once again pulled the rug out from under his hacker drama, fooled us all, and made Mr. Robot the most talked about show on television. Or so I suppose they imagined some six or so months ago when the idea first floated around the writer's room.

Before putting the show’s creators down too harshly, let’s first delve headfirst into this week’s twist. Elliot (Rami Malek) isn’t, as we have been led to believe, living with his mother but is in fact, as countless Redditers have guessed, in jail. The reveal, which comes in the final moments of this week’s episode, entitled "h4ndshake.sme", is done with the usual visual mastery that Mr. Robot has established as perhaps its most essential calling card. Even though we know the moment that Elliot's therapist questions whether he knows where he is that the reveal is coming, Esmail and team play it well, showing us how each set-piece of Elliot's season two storyline fits into this idea. All this being said, this sequence is undoubtedly the most maddening of the show's run, and the first time that fans everywhere, including myself, will be begin to doubt the show's grand plan.

Putting aside the fact that nearly everyone predicted this twist, it simply doesn't work effectively on a narrative level. We've now spent seven episodes in Elliot's little secluded world, making diversions into a plotline involving sex trafficking and online black markets, and are now essentially told to rethink everything we've seen. It was exciting, back just a few episodes, when it looked like Elliot was finally getting out of his own head and entering the world of FSociety, E Corp, and the rest of the show, but now it looks like he's somehow further away than we could have imagined. What was a moment meant to illicit shock and awe was met with mostly a collective groan; this actually has more to do with set up than the reveal.

Last year's big twist, the Tyler-Durden-esque reveal about the nature of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), wasn't all that original -- it wasn't even that difficult to predict -- but what it did do was fit in and accelerate the story to that point. You could argue that last season would have still been one of the best on television even if, say, Mr. Robot was just some crazy, subway-riding revolutionary, and that's important. Season one earned that twist, not matter how hackneyed, in a way that this year simply hasn't. To a season that has been meandering at best, adding such a reveal feels more like the creators grasping at straws than contributing to some meaningful end game, and that's frustrating.

While Elliot continues to traverse the distorted world of his own making, the rest of the FSociety team continue to slowly and surely hack the FBI in an attempt to find out just how in trouble they are. When we last saw Angela (Portia Doubleday), she was in the midst of said hack just as Agent Dom (Grace Gummer) approached and questioned her about her trip to the restricted floor. Dom, quickly becoming the best character on Mr. Robot, seems to know Angela is up to something, an inkling that's confirmed when she soon discovers the hack, only to saunter off confidently, leaving the sloppy FBI to deal with the latest blunder.

Even this side of the narrative coin, which seems to have much more significance than anything going on with Elliot, is moving painfully slow. Angela continues to fight E Corp from the inside, aligning herself closer and closer to the dastardly Philip Price (Michael Cristofer), but little actually changes from this week to the next, and her overall goal is still muddled in mystery, perhaps even to herself.

Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and the others are merely in survival mode, fighting to learn all they can while continuously worried about what they find out. Although not specifically revealed, it seems that at episode end they've finally discovered what the FBI knows, and it doesn't appear to be good news for the mask-donning gang of revolutionaries. How they'll will respond will likely be the feature of the next couple of episodes, as this line of narrative will seemingly need to be the heavy lifter with Elliot now firmly out of the game.

That brings me back to our favorite schizophrenic. The answers about what the last seven weeks have actually meant will likely come more and more into focus as we learn what exactly Ray (Craig Robinson) was in the world of the prison, how he ended up in the prison, and what his Seinfeld-quoting friend has to do with Whiterose (BD Wong). All we can hope in the wake of this overstuffed reveal is that these answers come fast and hot, and we finally get Elliot out of prison and back into the big game. Or, at the very least, have some grasp of reality so we can all stop waiting for the next twist.

3

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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