Dexter Romweber: Chased By Martians

Michael Stephens

Dexter Romweber

Chased By Martians

Label: Manifesto
US Release Date: 2001-09-11

Musical meaning is measured in millions. Pampered, mega-sloth Mac-Poodles are led around the electronic cage on invisible leashes by giant invisible corporate owners and applauded as they receive their sales-pet-of-the-year awards. Dexter Romweber is different. He doesn't sell millions, and he's no prize poodle. More like a junkyard dog called "Little Bastard". Dex's new album is entitled Chased By Martians and make no mistake. Those Martians know a good thing when they hear it.

Chased By Martians shows why the less compromised music elite -- Beck and Keith Richards, for example -- pay homage to this sub-alternative, frazzled-looking East Virginia singer/guitarist. Dex mixes punk, rockabilly, stone age jazz, surf and aching, burning torch ballads in an alchemical blend that's his alone.

Anyone who ever saw the Flat Duo Jets on the dive bar circuit, where they played for fourteen long years, knows Dex is different. No studious geek from the No-Depression-University-of-Politically-Correct-Country, no latest-Velvet-Underground-haircut-and-shades-tribute-band-from-NY, no mint '50s Gretsch collector, duck's ass cultivator, trailer trash impersonator, or Heat-seeking revivalist. If such an ugly beast as rock and roll still survives in this genocidal 3rd millennium from the sun, Dexter is it -- an afflicted, manically intense, heart-broken train wreck of a singer/guitarist with more rock action in his bowed, scowling face than 99.9% of our era's musical wankers have envisioned in their most sheet-staining visions of being visionaries.

If you dig dirty, no pedals, surf-punk guitar, Dex coasts from head-butting swag down to ear mangling thrash and on up and out to sky painting reverb-&-vibrato-soaked tone flights all in 22 seconds. Try "Love Has Its Jokes Sometimes" from Go Go Harlem Baby for an all-time-top-ten-under-thirty-second-electric solo that's just a sandwich short of Quine's no-contenders napalm picnic on "Blank Generation". But there's more.

There's the voice. Dex is the greatest untrained & unchained rock and roll singer of our time. Check out "Lonely Guy", "Dark Night", and the glistening black hole ballad, "Go This Way" ("just a million miles of me and the stars above") on the Flat Duo Jets' Lucky Eye. Then try "Use To You" and the heart breaking "Feel Like Going Home" on Chased By Martians. Dexter is the raw ass-howling hillbilly Hamlet of dark night of the soul vocal testifying.

But there's more. Dex is one fabulous songwriter. The lyrics don't always make linear sense, but they make total soul sense. "Sharks flying in from outer space / Come to Rock, Rock the human race". I mean . . . Yeah! Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen . . . eat your art out!

Dexter will never become a Mac-Roc-Star, propped up by his latest product like a burger leaning on a pile of fries. Dex's raucous musical dynamics, unstructured attack, lyrical craziness, emotional rawness and un-Ritalin-becalmed rowdiness don't fit the comfort zones of consumers raised on the pre-digested sounds of today's alt-rock. But when connoisseurs of the wild blood wander the back roads a hundred years from now, Dex and the Flat Duo Jets will cast big ole boogieman shadows on the white trees.

Lucky Eye is a tough album to follow, but Chased By Martians follows it anyway. Dex never had a plan. He's like the beat. He goes on. I've seen a wild-eyed Dex abandon a gig half way through a set and storm out of the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, tumbling into the night, leaving his Silvertone laying in the middle of the beer-stained dance-floor, a confused audience shrugging their shoulders, and Crow shaking his head and packing up his drums, having probably experienced Dex's mood swings and blown fuses more times than enough. Dex always seemed like a man about to be torn apart by the energies that fuel his music. On Chased By Martians though, he is surfing the dangerous liquid surface of his emotions with increasing confidence and mastery.

The inimitable sleeve notes tell it all: "I slip in. What incarnation will I take? The whore of Babylon or the dire musician? Where shall we go? To the west of Zanzibar or to the east of Memphis? It doesn't matter now (maybe just a little). I had a lot of thinking to do. And after that . . . more thinking."

Chased By Martians jumps off the dock with "15,000 Lives" a dark, foreboding tale of mass murder that I thought was Dex's response to 9-11 until I realized the album was released just after September 11, 2001. The prophetic chorus -- "He took 15,000 lives" -- and distorted musings like "all these maniacs it's a wonder anyone survives" make you wonder what Dex was channeling at the time. A hilarious, upbeat, hayseed version of the Who's "The Seeker" follows, featuring Patsy Cline's fiddler Sonny Mead. Sonny also appears on "Walkin' With Scary Hillbilly Monsters", a spooky, melancholy instrumental whose Cramps-ish B-movie title belies its melodic beauty and stylistic flair.

Dexter has been exploring two instrumental territories throughout his career, sketched out early on "Wild Trip" and "Harlem Nocturne" from Go Go Harlem Baby. On the one hand he is up for bare knuckles guitar-drums-workouts like "Bombora" and "Guybo": scratching out a riff and diving like a mad dog at whatever leads he can take with no bass player at his back. On the other hand, Dex loves classic, polished 50's electric guitar tones and has a connoisseur's ability to evoke the sonic atmosphere of early rock and roll recordings. "New York Studio 1959" shows this sweeping, romantic side of Dex.

"Walkin' With Scary Hillbilly Monsters" is another chapter in Dex's evolution as a composer, arranger and instrumentalist. The innovative character of the tune is the introduction of Sonny Mead's grainy country fiddle into the surf-rockabilly instrumental terrain. It's a typically spontaneous and playful piece of Dex's genius for experimenting with the rockabilly genre, of which he is one of the two or three true living masters.

If you give a damn about rock and roll, buy Chased By Martians and the Flat Duo Jets' unbeatable last album Lucky Eye. Dex is the living flame of American roots music and you owe it to yourself to experience him. It just might save your life.

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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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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