Music

Rasputin Stash: Devil Made Me Do It

Second album by Chicago’s underground funk heroes gets another chance to unleash its decidedly non-commercial approximations of commercial R&B on the masses in this new reissue.


Rasputin Stash

Devil Made Me Do It

Label: BBE
US Release Date: 2016-02-12
UK Release Date: 2016-02-12
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By the time they’d gotten around to record their second album in 1974, Chicago’s Rasputin Stash had dropped the possessive in their name along with a good portion of its original eight-member line-up. Signed to Curtom subsidiary Gemigo for the release of Devil Made Me Do It, they moved away from the more rock-oriented material of their self-titled debut released three years earlier on Cotillion, landing squarely in the realm of early-to-mid-‘70s funky soul. Where before they possessed more of a harder-edged, Funkadelic-inspired sound, here they smooth out the edges, tighten up the vocal arrangements and up the funk quotient.

As before, the members of Rasputin Stash, veterans of the Chicago music and studio scene all, show themselves to be far stronger in the instrumental department than in their somewhat strained and left-of-center vocals. But where others would need to rely on smooth vocals to maintain a certain level of appeal, their atypical vocals and oddball lyrics coupled with an undeniable instrumental prowess simply add to the overall appeal. On the smoke-enshrouded, pro-legalization would-be anthem “Hit It and Pass It", they deliver a muscular, bass-heavy proto-disco funk that plays like some sort of bizarro James Brown clone strutting and shouting his way through a series of pro-pot rants, heavy on the “hip” drug references. “How do you feel when the man next to you hogs the smoke / You known what I’m talkin’ about,” they sing before embarking on more than a few drug-fuel, Brown-esque “hit it and pass it's".

None of this should come as a surprise, however, given the decidedly independent sound and feel of both this and their debut. Only the wickedly funky opening track “Ooh Baby” manages to approximate the mainstream. With its Barry White-esque spoken intro and mid-tempo funk strut it’s a great lost track that would elevate any compilation on which it appeared. Encompassing all the requisite elements of mid-‘70s funk and soul, “Ooh Baby” often feels more a pastiche – especially when taken in context with the rest of the album – yet one that manages to succeed largely thanks to the instrumental prowess propelling it forward.

Similarly, “I Saw Your Face” plays like a Barry White/Philly Soul mash-up with its over-exaggerated vocals, heavily applied strings and dexterous piano playing. Lyrically and melodically it’s a step back from the immediacy of “Ooh Baby", yet it still affords a number of music left turns, including a bridge that finds the backing players pushing the song into double-time while the vocalists retain the smooth, almost legato feel of the track’s first half.

By the time hit the Meters-like funk of the title track, they’ve abandoned any and all pretense of being a mainstream funk/soul act. Essentially a nearly five-minute exercise in passing the buck, the song’s narrator spends much of the time placing the blame on the devil for his being a philandering womanizer and abuser and all around son-of-a-bitch. “Don’t want to drive you to an early grave / So try and take heed to what I say,” they sing in unison before devolving into a series of salacious grunts and wordless vocalizing. When the vocals come back in, they take the form of a nightmarish monologue that sends “Devil Made Me Do It“ into the stratosphere. It’s a decidedly noncommercial move – not to mention borderline blasphemous for a genre rooted in the church – and one which helps separate Rasputin Stash from the scores of similar under-the-radar funk/soul artists.

Devil Made Me Do It may not be a lost classic, but for those who like their funk and soul decidedly left-of-center and full of exceptional playing and absurdist lyrics (check “I Can Feel Your Jones” in particular) there will be much to enjoy. The rest will just need forget the vocals and lyrics, let the rhythm take over and get their asses out on the dance floor.

6

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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