Music

Paul Weller: Jawbone - Music From the Film

Photo: Julian Broad

The ageless, prolific Weller steps out of his comfort zone with his first soundtrack, and it's a moody, psychedelic gem.


Paul Weller

Jawbone: Music From the Film

Label: Warner Brothers
US Release Date: 2017-03-10
Amazon
iTunes

Considering his range of influence and scope of talent, it’s not surprising to be reminded that Paul Weller has been a fixture of the music world for roughly four decades. As the leader of the punk trio the Jam in the ‘70s and the primary brains behind the pop/funk/soul outfit the Style Council in the ‘80s, Weller has continued to hone his skills as an acclaimed and eclectic solo artist since his full-length debut album in 1992. In his solo years he’s mined nearly every conceivable genre, from pastoral folk (Wild Wood) to Beatlesque soul (Stanley Road) to fuzzy guitar funk (Heavy Soul). In recent years he’s broadened his horizons even further, with sharp experimental left turns like the vaguely prog Heliocentric, the dizzying, all-over-the-map 22 Dreams and 2015’s playfully buzzy Saturns Pattern.

Through it all, however, one thing Paul Weller has yet to add to his impressive resume is a film score/soundtrack. Until now. When British actor Johnny Harris -- a fan of Weller’s –- approached the musician a few years ago to work on a soundtrack for a boxing film that at the time only consisted of a script, Weller agreed to do so. The film became Jawbone, and the accompanying soundtrack is a welcome new chapter to an already deep and varied music career.

One of the most surprising aspects of this soundtrack –- besides the fact that he’s tackling it at this late stage in his career -– is how effortlessly and seamlessly Weller leaps into the genre. It opens with a massively ambitious instrumental, the 21-minute “Jimmy/Blackout". While Weller has occasionally flirted with instrumentals and psychedelia, this particular opus is a deep dive into ambient and musique concrète genres, mixing soothing synthesizer beds with guitar distortion, electric piano noodling, muted sound effects, and Weller’s haunted vocalizing towards the track’s end. It would be easy to dismiss this as Weller attempting to mimic Brian Eno, but the soothing ambiance is mixed with harsh edges that are more reminiscent of the soundtrack work Cliff Martinez has written for the films of Steven Soderbergh and Nicolas Winding Refn. Again, Weller has messed with this type of thing on and off for years, but it’s still a pleasant shock to hear it executed full-on, and at such an expert level.

For those who prefer the Modfather in a more traditional mood, there’s a pair of acoustic numbers that mesh nicely with the moodier instrumentals. “The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe” is Weller in folk garb, singing with depth and sincerity about the film’s lead character. “I’ll beat my head ‘til dawn / Figure out what I’m running from / Only then will I find peace in me.“ A working class boxer down on his luck seems like the perfect subject for Weller’s pen, and the character slips easily into the song’s lyrics. Likewise, “Bottle” is another solo acoustic song that channels the depths of this tortured character. Again, these songs are a respite from the others that surround them and are notable reminders of Weller’s skill at writing thoughtful, touching folky songs.

The remaining instrumental songs are more reined in than “Jimmy / Blackout,” but mostly in terms of length. They’re shorter but retain focus and maintain the deep spirit of experimentation that seems to be creeping into Weller’s music more and more in recent years. “Jawbone” is a druggy, slow motion funk groove combining plenty of psychedelic touches with bits of film dialogue. “Jawbone Training” is anchored by a jazzy, bebop drum beat with groaning guitar feedback over the top (along with more film dialogue). I haven’t seen the film, but I can imagine a potent boxing montage matching up to the track.

“Man On Fire” continues the moody ambiance that opens the soundtrack, but it’s more compact and not as rough around the edges. Plaintive piano gives the song more of an aura of sadness. The closing “End Fight Sequence” contains more of the adventurous guitar and layered effects that we’ve come to expect from this unique soundtrack, and the stacked sounds create a dark vibe that invites repeated listening.

Jawbone isn’t likely to shoot to the top of a fan’s “favorite Paul Weller albums” list anytime soon -- the stuff he does regularly is far more effective. But as a debut soundtrack, this is an extremely strong effort, and with Weller continuing to push boundaries farther and farther as his career progresses, we can probably expect a lot more of this kind of thing from the man. In the meantime, his next album, A Kind of Revolution, is due in May. It’s a good time to be a Paul Weller fan.

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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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