Music

Parliament: Chocolate City [remastered]

Jordan Kessler

Parliament

Chocolate City [remastered]

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 1969-12-31
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Parliament, along with its alter ego Funkadelic, defined funk in the 1970s. The group delivered a series of classic albums, among them Mothership Connection and Up for the Down Stroke. Its work has also been anthologized on excellent single-disc and double-disc compilations: Funked Up: The Very Best of Parliament and Tear the Roof Off: 1974-1980. So why, you may ask, would you want to buy this new reissue of Chocolate City?

For one, this CD contains many worthwhile songs not on Parliament compilations. Plus, the album hangs together as a coherent, cohesive statement. Like many R&B albums of the '70s (but not the '60s or '50s), it is more than just a collection of singles. In fact, the album charted higher than either of the singles it contains. This record, like many Parliament albums after it, has a guiding concept, an overarching theme: the life and times of African-American Washington, D.C. in the '70s.

Another selling point for this package is surely Tom Terrell's fantastic liner notes, which explain what D.C. meant to Parliament. According to Terrell, "D.C. was the first major city to give George Clinton's Parliafunkadelicment Thang mad love." Terrell points out that many of the songs on Chocolate City echo D.C. sounds –- such as "Let Me Be," which draws on '70s D.C. Gospel, and "I Misjudged You," a homage to smooth D.C. R&B balladeers The Unifics.

The two singles released from this album, though neither broke the R&B Top 20, are both memorable. The title track stands as a moving, honest political statement, something that became increasingly rare in R&B as the '70s progressed. With "Chocolate City", Clinton turns the tables on white society, which had begun to see inner cities as God-forsaken ghettos and the suburbs as the Promised Land. Though African-Americans didn't get their "40 acres and a mule", they did get the "chocolate city", which Clinton calls his "piece of the rock". Expressing love for "chocolate city", he posits it as central, dismissing the whiter areas surrounding it as mere "vanilla suburbs". With a wink and a nod, Clinton even predicts that African-American artists like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin will one day fill the top positions in the Federal government. Musically, the spoken-word vocals of "Chocolate City" predict hip-hop, and the song's amalgam of funk and jazz stretches musical boundaries. The second single from the album, "Ride On" is a monster funk dance jam powered by a savage, distorted bass line -– courtesy of the legendary William "Bootsy" Collins -- tied to some heavy cymbal work on the one.

The remaining songs on Chocolate City also offer much to enjoy. All of them feature the ace team of musicians and vocalists that composed Parliament, including, among others, "Bootsy" on bass, Bernie Worrell on keys, Tiki Fulwood on drums, and Gary Shider on guitar, with Calvin Simon, Fuzzy Haskins, and Grady Thomas joining George Clinton on vocals. "Big Footin'" comes down on the one like "Ride On" and features the catchy refrain, "I know what you can do, let us lay some funk on you." "Together" shares the heavy Funk sound of "Big Footin'" and "Ride On", but its choruses feature smooth soul vocals and beautiful harmonies. Like the title track, "Let Me Be" draws on jazz, but it also calls on gospel vocals and baroque classical piano as well, creating, in the process, a distinctive mix.

How is this reissue of Chocolate City different than the original album? The remastered sound here, the work of Ellen Fitton, is excellent, and the package contains three bonus tracks. Though alternate versions of "If It Don't Fit (Don't Force It)" and "I Misjudged You" don't really add much to the originals, the third bonus track -- a previously-unreleased recording of "Common Law Wife" -- is a barnburner. It features nasty, syncopated horn lines, a gorgeous falsetto vocal, and topical lyrics. Like "Chocolate City", "Common Law Wife" seems to express pride for where African Americans were in the '70s, though that place may not have been where they wanted or expected to be.

If you already have a copy of Chocolate City, it may make sense to forego this reissue, despite its superior sound, its great liner notes, and its inclusion of one great bonus track. If you have no Parliament at all in your collection, I suggest starting with a compilation such as the aforementioned Funked Up: The Very Best of Parliament. But if you have some Parliament at home and do not own Chocolate City, I recommend picking up this new reissue. If you do buy it, put it in your CD player, go to the second track, and follow Clinton's call to the dance floor: "Put a hump in your back, shake your sacroiliac, and ride on!"

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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