Music

She & Him: Christmas Party

Still more Christmas music from the anachronistically twee odd-couple duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.


She & Him

Christmas Party

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2016-10-28
UK Release Date: 2016-10-28
Amazon
iTunes

With dozens, if not hundreds of Christmas albums flooding the market beginning each October, it begs the question whether or not we need more renditions of the same holiday classics turned in by contemporary pop stars. Given the fickle ephemerality of fame in the 21st century, is it worth the effort to seek out these albums and, in many cases, performers that are as fleeting as the season itself? Can we not be content with the thousands of Christmas-themed recordings already in existence? Do we really need to supplement the tried and true classics with contemporary spins on these same songs?

At the risk of sounding like a real Scrooge, it’s hard to argue in favor of, let alone justify the existence of yet more Christmas recordings each year. So jaded are those turned off by the whole commerciality of the holiday season that the mere mention of Christmas music is enough to send them into frighteningly frothing paroxysms of anti-Christmas rhetoric. Heaven help those who so much as put on a Christmas album before Thanksgiving, let alone the week after Halloween. And yet given the continued commodification of Christmas, there remains a market for all things Christmas, especially when it comes to music. In this, there is and will continue to exist a seemingly never-ending stream of Christmas albums, so we might as well steel our resolve and brave the blizzard of holiday “re-imaginings” that lay ahead.

By now, we all know what we’re getting when it comes to anything Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward put out under their She & Him moniker: breathy, twee vocal performances; reverb-y guitars; and precious arrangements. It’s a sound ideally suited to the pre-fab commercialism that is the Christmas season. Having already issued one Christmas album in 2011’s appropriately-title A Very She & Him Christmas, they return five years later with yet another round of low-key renditions of holiday staples in the form of Christmas Party.

So sleepy are these versions that a more appropriate title may well have been Christmas After Party as the skeletal arrangements and Deschanel’s full-throated vocals lend a somnambulant quality to even the most upbeat of Christmas standards. Who could’ve ever guessed the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late” could ever be considered a sedate ballad that feels more lullaby than a celebration of the season?

And yet She & Him remain so unobtrusively innocuous as to lack even the barest of substance required to offend even the Grinchiest of us. With their studied throwback aesthetic firmly in place, Christmas Party more often than not has the feel of the classic Christmas recordings many of us grew up with, hearing them over and over each year at family gatherings and in nearly every store around the holiday season. “Christmas Memories” in particular proves an effective rendition, with its sparse, jazzy arrangement and Deschanel’s doe-eyed vocals quietly emoting in a manner most effective.

On one of his typically rare lead vocal appearances on a She & Him record, M. Ward’s read of “Run Run Rudolph” manages to transcend the almost comatose delivery he employs while Deschanel cheerfully chirps away behind him. It’s classic juxtaposition of darkness and light that affords a fine balance between the two and helps break up the sameness of the Deschanel-led melancholia that dominates the album.

Continuing to check off their list of requisite holiday staples, the duo picks up essentially where they left off five years prior, opening with “All I Want for Christmas Is You". A modern standard done so well by Mariah Carey in its original incarnation, the mere fact others have even dared attempt to follow is laughable at best, a sadly inconsequential facsimile at worst. There are certain songs (see: “White Christmas", “The Christmas Song", etc.) that really should not be undertaken at this point as no one has yet bettered the likes of Crosby and Cole.

Thankfully, She & Him opt for just this side of traditional holiday songs. There’s nothing so obscure as to raise any eyebrows, nor is there anything as obvious as, say, “Jingle Bells” or “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (though there’s still time should they opt for a third round of Christmas music…) So what’s left is a mixed bag of songs given the requisite She & Him treatment, all of which prove fairly innocuous and suitable for play in the usual demographically mixed holiday company.

There’s only one outright failure in a particularly cloying rendition of the particularly cloying “Must Be Santa” in which the background singers inexplicably begin listing, in order, presidents along with Santa’s perhaps more well-known reindeer. That they chose to end with “and Hillary Clinton” is a particularly bold move that immediately and unfortunately date stamps the recording, making it something of a seasonal “Dewey Defeats Truman.” It’s an unintentionally unfortunate lyrical alteration – who the fuck could’ve called a Trump win even at the time of the album’s recording?!– that will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of many who felt as sure about the final outcome as everyone in the studio must have during the recording session for the track.

Like the Christmas season itself, Christmas Party is pleasant enough in the moment, yet listeners will likely be glad when it’s all over and they can return to their regularly scheduled listening. Those already enamored of the duo’s well-defined aesthetic will find much to like, while those firmly anti-anything Zooey Deschanel will remain vehemently as such. The choice, one of literally thousands, is wholly yours.

6

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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