Nerissa and Katryna Nields

Stephen Rauch
Nerissa and Katryna Nields

Nerissa and Katryna Nields

City: Philadelphia
Venue: Sedgwick Cultural Center
Date: 2002-05-11
S E T    L I S T
Jennifer Falling Down
All These Years
Haven't Got a Thing
This Town is Wrong
Stuffed Animal songs: Blue Washcloth Dog and Amelia's Little Red Dog
Love Me One More Time
Mr. Right Now
Best Black Dress
Stuffed Animal songs II: Caterpillar and The Enemy Called Pants
Me and Bobby McGee
The Sweetness
Love and China
Easy People (off-mic)
Ticket to my House
Yesterday's Girl Encore
Irene Goodnight
This Happens Again and Again (off-mic)
Despite what certain marketing teams would have you believe, there's nothing new about rock stars cultivating a "bad boy" or "bad girl" image. That tradition is as old, if not older, than rock music itself. Elvis shook his hips, Ozzy bit the heads off things, and Marilyn Manson is, well, Marilyn Manson. So in the face of all this, there's something a little… well… a lot wholesome about the Nields. The folk-rock outfit from Northampton, MA has at its core sisters Nerissa and Katryna Nields, and, as they like to say, their Daves: guitarist Dave Nields (Nerissa's husband), bassist and producer Dave Chalfant (Katryna's husband), and drummer Dave Hower (currently unaffiliated). Add to the mix the fact that Katryna and Chalfant had a baby, Amelia, last year, and you have a group that fans can, and do, take their small children to. The centerpiece of the band has always been the harmonies of the sisters' singing; no one does pretty harmonies like the Nields. The sisters' voices are both incredibly beautiful but distinct, and what they do with those voices is largely the reason to see the band. The band actually tours in two incarnations: the full band, and just the duo of Nerissa and Katryna, with accordingly different shows. While they usually play a few shows here and there in each capacity, Nerissa and Katryna are in the middle of an extended tour in support of their first "solo" album, Love and China. And while the full band shows off the surprisingly strong rock tendencies of the outfit, the shows with just the sisters fall much more on the folk side of things. The story goes that, growing up, their father used to sing to them every night, and the duo dig into not just the band's catalogue, but the greater body of the folk song. And it was in this capacity that the sisters played at Philly's Sedgwick Cultural Center, a venue that, from the look of things, has had its share of folksingers over the years. So in their recent show, the sisters' folk sensibility was again on center stage. That genre suits the pair of them, accompanied only by Nerissa's acoustic guitar. The Nields have always flirted with country, such as Hank Williams Sr. (their 1996 If You Lived Here, You'd be Home Now features a cover of Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") and Kris Kristofferson, with their music occupying the shifting middle ground between folk, rock, and country. And Love and China moves them even farther in the "country" direction. (Don't worry, that means "alt-country," not Billy Ray Cyrus.) Their set featured Leadbelly's "Irene Goodnight" as an encore, as well as Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee". (On the latter, the family influence was clear, as the sisters explained that they had listened to their father's version of the song for 10 years before they ever heard Janis Joplin sing it, and it was years and years later that they actually heard the original.) And of the offerings they performed from Love and China, "Haven't Got a Thing", "Love Me One More Time", "The Sweetness", and the title track all lean toward country. It was the new album that dominated their set, with eight songs from the record, versus only five from their first three albums combined. However, the old songs they did play were all stalwarts of their live shows: "Jennifer Falling Down", "This Town is Wrong", "Best Black Dress", Easy People", and "Mr. Right Now". Still, I was disappointed to see the early albums get such short shrift, especially with only one song from their first, Gotta Get Over Greta. Of course, the real reason to see the duo without their Daves is to watch their stage banter. After years of touring (and as multiple viewings can attest), Nerissa and Katryna have this down to a science, playing off each other and treading that fine line between "cute" and "too much." If anything, they do this even more since Katryna had the baby. Of course, Amelia came up in the conversation quite often. While Nerissa usually writes all the group's songs (sometimes accompanied by "her" Dave), Katryna told the crowd that she has written a bunch of songs -- all of them about toys of Amelia's ("I'm a blue washcloth dog"). So, during the set, they performed "Blue Washcloth Dog", "Caterpillar", "Amelia's Little Red Dog", and "The Enemy Called Pants" (the latter composed because the baby doesn't like to wear pants). Not to be outdone, Nerissa told the crowd about the novel she's been writing while Katryna was busy having the baby. The novel is about a group of friends in a band, and their adventures as they almost become famous, and will be accompanied by a group of songs they "wrote." Nerissa told about wanting to use "Love and China" for the new album, and talking to the songwriter (one of the characters in the book) about using it -- a conversation ending with "Well, it's my song" -- "Well, you're fictional." This is the kind of thing the two of them always go on about. They do it with the full band too, but when it's just Katryna and Nerissa, there's no band to restrain them, and they pretty much just go wild. I suppose what you think of their live show depends on large account on what you think of their stage banter -- I happen to enjoy it highly, but it tends to make people like my brother nauseous. After all, rock and roll is supposed to be about rebellion, and the Nields are so, well, happy. My only real complaint about the show, besides their de-emphasizing their earlier work, was the short length of the set. The set itself was great, but they only played two songs as an encore, which wouldn't have been a problem, except that they came out for two encores, and only played one song at each one. (I'm mostly grumbling because they almost played "Snowman", my favorite song off theirs, but then decided not to at the last minute.) Still, their singing was beautiful, and their off-mic closing of "This Happens Again and Again" (the room had great acoustics) was something I'll not forget for a long time. There's a profound state of aesthetic arrest that some singers can put an audience into, and singers like that are worth their weight in gold. Not many bands manage to have two of them.

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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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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