Music

Scott H. Biram: Bad Ingredients

One rarely feels so much energy and solidarity in loneliness and despair than when one listens to Scott H. Biram's music, not the least in Bad Ingredients. His fourth album for Bloodshot Records is also one of the year's best.


Scott H. Biram

Bad Ingredients

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: 2011-10-11
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Scott Biram’s Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever was a powerful album of music ranging from field holler spiritual to stompin’ blues punk; abundantly well-written, and bearing that unmistakable Biram panache of gravel, blood and tears. A song like "Still, Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue" is exemplary. As an anthem, it is to a contemporary underground garage, blues, alt-country crowd what Paul Simon’s otherwise praiseworthy G-rated effort of a similar title was to the Big Chill generation. How goddamned frightening it must be for artists to create something that good and a year later be faced with a follow up. Two years later, Bad Ingredients, Biram’s fourth album for Bloodshot records, is by some standards his best so far.

I don’t mean to imply that Bad Ingredients is an album encompassing numerous genres from blues to hip-hop and ska. However, it is the most musically diverse album Biram has produced to date. That itself doesn’t necessarily make a great album, of course. Yet, it is a great album. You find the expected country blues convergence of Jimmie Rodgers, Lightning Hopkins, and Townes Van Zandt with punkier stompin blues à la Hasil Adkins. Yet there are a couple of numbers that take a turn (even if not a plunge) towards psych-tinged bluesy Zepplinesque rock. Add to that a great R&B number reminiscent of Andre Williams, and you have a richly different Biram product.

Some artists’ sound meets their lyrics only by force or chance. Biram is not among them. His concerns about the world and, judging from interviews, his life, fit the two music styles between which he oscillates: country-blues and punk. People deal with life’s frustrations and resulting hostility by falling into depression, yelling at people, raging on the road or talking to a therapist. In addition, some musicians like Biram traditionally go to those two musical poles, fast angry punk or slow, down-in-the dumps blues. What’s different about Biram is that he doesn’t just give you one or the other, and on this album there's even more.

"Just Another River", "Born in Jail", "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" (a nice Lightin' Hopkins cover), and "Black Creek Risin'" are all heavy, emotive blues numbers. "Open Road" and "Memories of You Sweetheart" are closer to country singer-songwriters Townes Van Zandt and John Anderson. But if the slower bluesy songs are just too, well, bluesy and downer for you, you can be delivered into lyrical denial during several top-shelf stompers. "Dontcha Lie to Me Baby" and "Killed a Chicken Last Night" are both blues-garage hellraisers, while "Victory Song", "Wind Up Blind" and "Hang Your Head and Cry" are closer to slightly psyched-out, one-man-band classic rock.

"I Want My Mojo Back" and "Victory" are the two surprise standouts in quality and uniqueness, though there’s not a weak song on the entire album. I say "surprises" because they are neither the expected country blues nor the Hasil-Adkins, Black Flag-inspired stuff. "I Want My Mojo" is an R&B/hard-blues mix, complete with backup soul singers and Walter Daniels' screeching saxophone. It's a kind of Andre Williams meets Rufus Thomas and Jon Spencer gumbo. "Victory Song" is a goose-bumping haunted house of a track. Biram goes slightly psychedelic, with an echoing "Victory" and "freedom" to his patented semi-stomp in a middle bridge. "Victory" here sounds like a man's battle with loneliness: "I'm gonna find a woman/I'll tell ya how it's gonna be/I'm gonna love her and she's gonna love me..love, love, love…victory." It sounds like he's singing and playing in a canyon, accompanied by nothing and no one except hope. The track's driving sound, though somewhat ominous, reflects a determined narrator. It's catchy, even mesmerizing, worthy of heavy radio and ipod play.

Aside from a rare couple of awkward phrasings (as when he tries to force the syllables "I’ve been livin' out of the back of a beat up '72 Ford" into an uncompromising time signature in "Broke Ass", and it sounds more like Flight of the Conchords), the album is a strong lyrical effort, corresponding to Biram's stock themes. "I'm just floatin' around, no friend to call my own/ I've got to do what's right, now people, and leave this place behind": these are the first lines of the album, and they set the tone. The track to which they belong, "Just Another River" uses the metaphor of multiple rivers flowing into a sea to describe love and/or sex. It's a kind of absurd universe, eternally perplexing: "Things fall on me sometimes/they penetrate my soul/I just keep drifting/I just don't know," he sings to an acoustic riff reminiscent of Johnny Cash's cover of "Personal Jesus." Bad luck and bewilderment—and we're off.

In "Broke Ass", Biram alternates from crass to more subtle poetry, underlining the fact that he's not going to fulfill any redneck fantasies. The hombre does have a mouth on and a bad streak in him, but he also has an art degree and doesn't believe every lunatic in the country should be able to tote a gun (check out his interviews). He's not just a wild exception, either. He's part of what makes up the US, Texas, and fans of country and blues. Instead of just chanting, "my ass is broke!" he tells us "I ain’t seen Ben Franklin in a month or two." Then, "get on up, come on down, see the nicest piece of real estate to ever grace this down/She’s my baby, she’s my broken piece of ass…. Come on down and take a good long look at my bad dream". It's a weird brand of harsh affection the singer has for this "two dollar whore". Hardly the "get on up" that James Brown or the Esquires were talking about. It's not clear whether it's his "woman" or his entire life is the "bad dream" we're invited to "come on down and take a look at".

"Open Road" has a western guitar tinge to it, which would make "Open Range" equally appropriate as a title. Reflecting the title of another great song from his last album, Biram sings, "I’ve been waitin' for the judgment day so I’ll finally understand" and "getting tired of seekin' answers, they’ll only let me down/Been drinking for forever, just can’t put it down." A theme of movement (sometimes alcohol-assisted) as solace or at least transitory escape runs through many of these songs: "I never felt somethin' like a warm, safe place ‘til I hit that open road." This from a guy whose real-life tangle with a semi-truck gave him more metallic parts than the Bionic Man. The refrain is "Hit that open road." It’s a kind of cowboy Buddhism. All of life is suffering; the only excuse for solace is loneliness and wandering. Or consider the album's closer: "Hang Your Head and Cry". Contrary to the title, it's another mover. More like "bang your head and cry!" Come on, altogether now!

The slower, bluer numbers are meditative—and if you're still wondering, what does he have to hang his head and cry about? Let's not beat around the bush: loneliness, unrequited love, betrayal, being broke, having your legs broken and the bad luck of all of the former. The faster numbers, where we find him with a "devil may care" attitude toward speed limits (e.g. the insane confessional "I Killed a Chicken Last Night"), are the hostile amphetamines of punk adolescence that some of us will never lose, and for whom they will always be necessary, if not completely welcome in a world where on some days encountering just one more naive grinner will make us puke on the spot. At the risk of getting too cute, we cook with whatever ingredients are in the cupboard, no matter how bad they appear to those more fortunate. One rarely feels so much energy and solidarity in loneliness and despair than when one listens to Scott H. Biram's music, not the least in Bad Ingredients.

8

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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