Music

Nino Moschella: Man of Many Hats

If you receive a demo that includes the banging of a broomstick, how good could the album really be? As it turns out, it can be extremely good. In fact, it could one of the year's best.


Nino Moschella

The Fix

Label: Ubiquity
US Release Date: 2006-05-23
UK Release Date: 2006-05-22
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I want to talk to you about Nino Moschella's music. And when you're done reading this, I think you ought to buy his album. But first, I want to tell you about his album cover.

Not long ago, Josette Compton wrote a wonderfully insightful PopMatters feature article titled "From Classy to Ashy". The article explored a disturbing trend in hip-hop CD covers -- the covers aren't appealing. As CD covers are still potential marketing tools, just like videos, tour dates, t-shirts, and so forth -- the article is timely and relevant, so much so that I started rifling through my hip-hop stash to conduct my own little study.

The cover that stands out the most so far? N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" and its utilization of the artistic viewpoint of di sotto in sù (seen directly from below) so that the self-proclaimed "boyz-n-the-hood" appear to be standing over you (the viewer) as you presumably lie face up on the pavement. With Eazy-E pointing the barrel of a gun straight at the camera (i.e. you), it's a daring image indeed (See it here). Most groups shy away from blowing away their fans. Not NWA. That's why they had "attitudes".

But that cover is also masterful, employing the illusion of viewpoint perfected by early Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) in his frescoes painted on the ceiling of a tower chamber in the Ducal Palace of Mantua. Think of Andrea Mantegna as the Terrence Trent D'arby to Sandro Botticelli's Michael Jackson, okay? Mantegna painted his Palace fresco so that the room, a tower chamber, would appear open to a cloudy sky through a circular opening in the ceiling, like Xzibit showed up for an episode of Pimp My Castle and installed a big round sunroof. The painting depicts four women, three little boys with wings, a large peacock, a planter that looks like it could fall right on your head for a hefty negligence suit against the Castle, and a dark skinned brotha in a turban who looks an awful lot like NWA's MC Ren. Check out Mantegna's work here, near the bottom of the page, when you get a chance. The ceiling fresco is here.

In any event, Josette Compton's article was right on -- hip-hop CD covers are a big snooze. And guess what? Soul and R&B album covers don't look much better; they're either glossy close-ups of the singers or plain ol' group photos. For every imaginative and extravagant Earth, Wind & Fire album cover, there's one that's equally dull.

There is, however, one album cover for 2006 that advertises the music within and still tickles the fancy. This honor belongs to the cover of Nino Moschella's The Fix. This is one CD that should be judged by its cover, because the cover sheds light on the man and his music. It is here that we first encounter Mr. Moschella, his face photographed at an almost three-quarter view, rendered as a black-and-white facsimile. His eyes are fixed resolutely on some point "out there" in our (the viewer's) world. He's focused, perhaps even serious, in spite of the playfulness marked by the remainder of the cover.

Unlike most portraits, this one of Moschella has no hair. Instead, his head ends abruptly, as if he were O-ren Ishii from Kill Bill Volume 1 and the Bride, mad with vengeance, showed up with her Hittori Hanzo sword. His name rises out of his forehead, just above the wrinkles over his eyebrows, and the "O"s in both "Nino" and "Moschella" are planets with a single ring. His name introduces color to the picture, bringing a warm contrast to Moschella's stark black-and-white face and his all-black clothing. His black hat resembles that of a mime, like Charlie Chaplin gave it to him as a gift with a silent, "Here, Kid, catch," and Moschella's cover photo captures him in the middle of taking off that hat, perhaps to greet and introduce himself to his audience.

Then comes the weird part -- there are blue tree branches veining out of his head, or behind his head, or something equally bizarre. I wanted to check the credits to see if Salvador Dali had something to do with this, that's how surreal it is. Yep, it's weird, but it's also very cool.

Don't worry -- I won't do the impression of Sigmund Freud I've been itching to do. But the cover's imagery makes the statement that this guy's got a lot going on under his hat. The trees symbolize his ability to "branch out", in the performance of his music as well as his thirst for experimentation. Moreover, Moschella has perfected the art of anchoring his songs around a chord, a beat, or a bassline and then letting that simple seed germinate and expand into something altogether more complex.

Take one look at that album cover and you're bound to say, "Is this guy for real?" Well, Moschella must have anticipated that, because the album's first song, "Are You For Real" provides the answer (which is, "Yes", by the way). Evoking a bouncy, almost circus-like background, "Are You For Real" challenges you to keep your foot from tapping and your head from nodding. Moschella's vocals, on this song and throughout his work, are mostly understated, in a range and style that recalls Sly and the Family Stone while frequently flirting with a Princely falsetto. For the most part, the strategy works, blending Moschella's voice into the soundscape, making it as much of an instrument as the bass, the synth, or guitar. The downside is when the vocals merge with the music, the vocals get lost and the lyrics seem forgettable. After listening to the album endlessly, I believe it's a classic. Yet, there aren't many lyrics that I can quote from memory, with the exception of the inspirational "If You Believe (You Will Be Strong)".

Nevertheless, Moschella's quite a good lyricist. For example, check out his trip down memory lane in "Moved On" as he remembers "way back when" to a time when the "little boys were gentlemen". Now it's time to move on, the song says, because he's "been dependent on you for so long". Who exactly is this "you"? The song keeps you guessing, cleverly, lending itself to a variety of interpretations. You know he knows who he's addressing, but that's not the point. The point is, he (or at least the character in this song) has grown up over the years and has learned to shed his dependencies. Of course, "Moved On" fits neatly within the theme of the album in terms of having, or needing, a "fix" or having "fixations".

Yet, as compelling as his lyrics are, Moschella's music is even better. In "Moved On", Moschella's architecture of sound has its foundation in a crisp, thumping bass line and a honky-tonk of what sounds like an organ. The bass and percussion go thump-thump-thump like somebody's beating on your speakers from the inside out, while that organ sound grinds like a songbird between the rhythms. It's exquisite, right down to the demure whine of his guitar solo. "Better Off" and "Inside Yourself" use similar techniques, beginning with smart bass lines and branching out to include a wide variety of sounds.

There are other treats as well, creating a fresh mixture of arrangements. "No One" emphasizes an array of percussion, much like the end of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" -- you know how it sounds like there's keys and change and pencils and Popsicle sticks clanging together in somebody's pocket? Yeah, that's what Moschella deftly pulls out here. The title song, "The Fix", offers rubber band funk over heavy drums, while "Decisions" turns to blues and "We Will Soon Be Free" stutter steps its way through a singular guitar riff that eventually catapults into a full-fledged climactic solo. Meanwhile, "Strong Man" bangs with the hardest drums this side of the Pacific, similar to the Lenny Kravitz tune "Come On and Love Me" from his Are You Gonna Go My Way release. "Better Off" is another bass-driven vibe, this time with a bass line that -- don't laugh at this -- has the same punch as the theme from the sitcom Night Court. See that? It's easier to hum Moschella's melodies and riffs than it is to recite the lyrics.

According to Ubiquity's press kit, he's also beat boxing and recording the bangs of a broom handle. Recorded completely on his own and in his own surroundings, Moschella conducts all the instruments and vocals. Ubiquity's press release wasn't exaggerating -- there are many similarities between their California draft pick and Prince's early Minneapolis funk. The demo-style feel of Prince's For You and Dirty Mind certainly come to mind.

As far as nitpicks, I only have two. Mainly, some of the songs are too short. The music is so good, it's a bitter pill to swallow when a song gets you right in the groove and either fades out or abruptly ends. For example, "The Fix" could have been longer; same thing goes for "In Your Bedroom". However, the slightly irritating "Didn't You See Her", at two minutes and fourteen seconds, was a wise choice for making an early exit. My second nitpick is the final song, "Holding On". Other than Moschella's tender singing, there's little to recommend it and, as the last song on the album, it's an odd choice for ending such a freshly crafted body of work.

Nevertheless, The Fix is a great listen. My sister's already requested that Moschella add her to his friend's list on MySpace. I'll take it a step further and request that you add Moschella to your music collection.

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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