Music

Radiogram: All the Way Home

Adrien Begrand

Radiogram

All the Way Home

Label: Endearing
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
UK Release Date: 2002-04-01
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Allen Ginsberg once said the best poem to read aloud is Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind". Just go outside, blast it out, he suggested, and lose yourself in the breath rhythms. Out here on the Canadian Prairies, you can't do that. You climb a hill (yes, we have hills), you brace yourself against the vicious wind threatening to topple you, take a breath, and before you can yell out, "O Wild West Wind," a grasshopper smacks you in the face. Wind out on the Plains is a staggeringly powerful force, providing an unsettling, rumbling background noise on what would be an otherwise quiet afternoon. A similar, foreboding force hides beneath the songs on Vancouver-based Radiogram's new album All the Way Home, a remarkable effort that feels like a two-day summer drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba, through Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, into Alberta towards the Canadian Rockies, without the country AM radio: warm and sunny, lugubrious, gentle curves and valleys, with songs that take their time getting to where they're going, and all the while that sinister thrum of wind drones in the background.

Radiogram's chief singer/songwriter Ken Beattie knows this setting all to well, having grown up in Winnipeg, and this follow-up to the band's acclaimed Unbetween from two years ago further cements Radiogram's status as one of Canada's best bands. An ambitious record with songs sometimes lasting up to eight minutes in length, All the Way Home provides an original tweak in the typical alt-country sound we've grown used to over the past several years. Comparisons? Picture a cross between Wilco, Lambchop, and the more recent incarnation of Yo La Tengo. Beattie's songwriting is now so good he's venturing incredibly close to Jeff Tweedy status. Radiogram's use of trumpet, trombone, and strings echo the chamber-country stylings of Kurt Wagner; the band's willingness to quieten things down and take their time is very similar to Yo La Tengo's most recent album . . . And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

The songs may musically reflect the wide expanse of the prairies, but Beattie's lyrics are as world-weary as anything you'll come across. "Self Helpless" (the title says it all), with its dark drum rolls that sound like rolling thunder in the distance, has Beattie singing in a similarly spare, creaky fashion as Steve Earle ("Once I saw you I was mesmerized / But I didn't know then / You wore a cheap disguise"), as the music slowly plays. It's like watching a 4:00 a.m. sunrise, the ultimate Sunday morning song. Beattie waxes philosophic in his own realistic way on the lovely "Gone to Stay" ("What doesn't kill you makes you weaker"), and then conjures the spirit of Charlie Rich on the lovelorn, drunken ballad "Whisky in My Bed". "Buy the Farm", and especially the sublime "(Waiting For) The Merry Go Round", are simple, quiet, pretty songs, with the hushed backing vocals on the latter track sounding a bit like Belle & Sebastian. There's even a cover, a terrific version of New Order's "Love Vigilantes" that will make you wonder why no one bothered to make a country version of the song sooner.

The tracks that serve as the album's centerpiece reflect both the sunny and dreary sides of the summer months. The wistful "Summer Song Summer" is a lighthearted tale of those dreadfully short summer months in Canada, with the annual one-hit-wonder radio tunes serving as the season's soundtrack, sort of a country response to Husker Du's classic tribute to Minnesota's similarly short season, 1985's "Celebrated Summer": "Another summer song summer / Full of one-hit number ones / Current on the charts / Everybody sing along . . . the radio is playing nothing else / Another anthem for today's lost youth." On the flipside is the gloomy, yet stunning "Cemetery Summer", a tale of a man talking to his dead wife, where Beattie morbidly sings, "Thrice you tried to save me / Twice it seemed to work / Now I can't say I'm sorry / That now I kiss the dirt / Your tombstone looks so pretty / But I can't see the words / The waxing has been waning / Get the flashlight from the hearse."

All the Way Home gets even better on "Can America", Beattie's barbed commentary on the increasing Americanization of Canadian culture ("We had the red and white / Now we've got the blue"), inspired by reports of Canada selling fresh water from its millions of lakes to its Southern neighbors. His lyrics are double-edged, criticizing both America's infiltration of the mass media, as well as Canadians' willingness to roll over and accept it without a fight: "The eagle flew down the highway and he liked what he did see / The beavers were all busy building our American dream / The satellites on the rooftop no longer beamed down CBC / Thank God for television / Thank God for the land of the free." Beattie ends the song with a plea for some more national pride, singing, "Now no one can remember how the anthem goes / Something about 'far and wide' / About how out hearts should glow / The stars on the banner, well, they're far to dull to shine / Can America be yours? / Can America be mine?"

Radiogram is helped out by notable guests Carolyn Mark, who sings backing vocals on a couple tracks, and noted steel guitarist Bob Egan, but their real secret weapon is their own bandmember Ida Nilsen. A multi-instrumentalist who contributes piano, accordion, and backing vocals, while her simple, wobbly, charmingly imperfect trumpet solos gives Radiogram a sound all their own.

Even though Canadian music is selling well on both sides of the border these days, popular Canadian music has never been worse. Embarrassing hack acts like Nickelback, Default, Our Lady Peace, Matthew Good, the Tea Party, and the inimitable Alanis Morrissette represent the worst my country has to offer (thank goodness for Sum 41 and Sloan), and their popularity has forced good Canadian music underground. You have to do some digging, but the gems you find are real beauts, and Radiogram's majestic All the Way Home is the best Canadian album since the New Pornographers' 2000 pop masterpiece Mass Romantic. As you hear the exquisite epic ballad "Not Here" closes the album, I know you'll be nodding in agreement.

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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