The Shield

Cynthia Fuchs

Vic is the man in every way: mean, impulsive, voluble, in love with his authority but resentful too, resisting his own responsibility.

The Shield

Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Glenn Close, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins, Kenneth Johnson, David Rees Snell
Network: FX
But don't let it be a black and a white one.
Cuz they slam ya down to the street top.
Black police showin' out for the white cop.
-- NWA, "Fuck Tha Police"

You wanna smell my gun?
-- Shane (Walton Goggins), "The Cure"

The streets of L.A. teem with activity. A Latin tune booms alongside traffic sounds and conversations, while moms and their young children, a shopper with a protective surgical mask, an old man on a bicycle, all pass through the frame. None seems important, all seem ordinary. But then it's not. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and a coterie of unis head toward and past the camera, and suddenly the lively sidewalk scene turns ominous.

With a guitar grind swelling into the soundtrack, the camera is suddenly not just observing, but tracking, rushing to a doorway with the gathering cops. They unholster their weapons, and then Vic takes center stage, dark glasses, bald pate, and black jacket all shiny in the sun, as he crouches, ready to pounce, unable to stay still. Informing his straight-laced compatriot (David Marciano) that everyone's good to go, he grimaces, slightly. Taking orders from this schmuck in a grey suit is hardly Vic's style. But he's been busted down since last season (the time is six months later), from leader of the daunting Strike Team to pseudo-regular dick on the street, good to send in first, less good to follow.

Season Four's first episode, "The Cure," begins with this: Vic and company enter a hot electronics dealer's apartment, slam him into his table, and then one of the newbies shoots the dealer's dog. This is bad. "You would have been better off shootin' the suspect," Vic instructs. "The ass-chief [assistant chief] thinks it's just a matter of time before someone mistakes some kid coming around a corner for Rover." The kid looks worried. "Don't fret it, Scooby," sighs Vic. "We'll figure something out."

What they figure out -- they place a gun near the dog's paw, as if the kill was self-defense -- demonstrates the ingenious absurdity and antic brutality of The Shield. As much as the series has made its PR mark by its insistent violence and Vic's moral ambiguities, it is at base a show about characters, utterly troubled, terrifically original, and frequently disturbing. They bring a hard, post-9/11 tv-cop style, digging into storylines rarely even broached, such as last season's rape of Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez), whose marriage in "The Cure" now appears to be unraveling. This at least in his mind; his longsuffering and ambitious wife Aurora (Camillia Sanes) appears less inclined to leave the partnership quietly, especially as he's now ascending to the City Council.

As discomforting as Aceveda's drama has been (and apparently, will continue to be), it's hardly the only or even the most extreme case at the Barn. The new season introduces a high-voltage extremity right off, Aceveda's replacement as captain, Monica Rawling (Glenn Close). Her first moment on screen has her appreciating Vic's "kill-or-be-killed" joke about the dog, taking his side against the skeptical ass-chief. From here, she glides into HQ, greeting Aceveda and asking to "meet the troops," eager to deflate predictable rumors. The squad members check her out and respond as you'd guess: Claudette (CCH Pounder) resents that Rawlins has the job she was promised, and while her partner Dutch (Jay Karnes) also disapproves, his effort at "support" is gauche as ever ("Wasn't expecting to go for another woman, you know, I mean, after they torpedoed you"). Claudette sighs. She's surrounded, as ever.

Consigned to a dullsville custom cars sting with Ronnie (David Rees Snell) -- -- Lem's (Kenneth Johnson) working Youth Authority and new daddied, terminally inept Shane (Walt Goggins) is digging himself deeper into deceit and corruption -- Vic is a bit adrift, looking for someone beside Aceveda to hate and exploit. He and Monica hit it off, in their way. Or make that her way. She figures him for the guy who gets things done, and attaches to him for the day, riding along for a "tour," then again when he muscles a banger for info on a quadruple drowning in a motel room that has left an infant missing. She's right to check him. Vic is the man in every way: mean, impulsive, voluble, in love with his authority but resentful too, resisting his own responsibility, except when it comes to kids, especially little helpless ones. Then he gets responsible. And mad.

This season, Vic looks angry all over again. The Shield lobs him like a how-you-like-it grenade at a public so mad at the world that it's willing to lump all evil-doers together, all deserving of a nationally identified retribution. If it were up to Vic, the precinct would be all Patriot-Acted out, no rights for suspects, no doors closed to cops. Up against enemies who don't have "rules," he might as well clap back. That's not to say that he won't make use of any available "code of honor," the street cipher by which criminals conjure their own order, as arbitrary and arcane as any afforded by the legal system. He cheats, steals, and lies, abuses suspects and the law. No wonder Monica sees in him the most effective way to achieve big-bust numbers and better, to garnish actual money off stashes retrieved. Though she has ideas about revamping the Barn and bringing glory to her reign, she's both seasoned and cynical enough to know strictly legal means don't get it done. Witnessing the Barn crew's harassment by ADA Encardi (Anna Maria Horsford), Monica's already looking for ways to get around.

One such way might be found in the group enthralled and cajoled by Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson). Monica and Vic walk into a meeting right on cue: "Re-spect!" roar the men inside, responding to Antwon's call. His preachment today: live up to your masculine obligations, don't leave to your women to handle the home and babies. (Don't be like Vic.) As the cops skulk along the perimeters -- only white folks in the vicinity -- they catch Antwan's notice: "You put more than two black men together and look who shows up!" He takes it as a teachable moment, announcing, "We commit the crimes. I did myself. I slung rock, messed people up. But I don't fight the power anymore. We need to be about changing that power." It's great rhetoric and good enough reasoning. And Antwon's got lots of it. When Monica tries to correct him during a litany of notorious police abuses of black men, he knows she doesn't get it. Specific dates and places are not the point. "It's all white America, lady." She's got nothing. Vic watches her take it.

Back at the Barn, Monica sees exactly why Vic's her ticket: he takes the bait she's planted (he's missed out on a transfer to a prestigious street crime detail) and blames Aceveda (who has, admittedly, put a foul letter in Vic's file: "You goddamn buried me!"). The guys face off like the angry chest-beaters they are (Aceveda: "You really thought after everything, I wouldn't get the last word?") and this time it's Monica's turn to watch. She's got his number, and Aceveda's. He didn't get rid of Vic, she observes, despite numerous opportunities, and so she asks, slyly, never taking her eyes off the interview monitor where Vic is bullying Antwon: "Was he too effective?"

Vic's effectiveness has always been a function of his sheer force -- crashing and kicking, pistol-whipping and punching. By episode's end, he's taking after one of his custom cars perps, not for the crime at hand, but beating up his (the perp's) young son -- he's caught on tape. Though no one is supposed to know how or why the villain lands in the hospital, Monica knows (she has sources beyond Vic's current knowledge). And she's odiously impressed by this Tasmanian bedeviling of Vic, his absolute dedication and hellzablazing self-certainty. Yet she demands his confidence and control. Vic looks almost bunnylike when she dangles her carrot, offering him the leadership of her own career-making innovation, a task force to target gangs, funded by that forfeiture program she has in mind. For Vic, it's another swipe at power, a new reason and means to run the streets. For you, it might seem another Ramparts in the making. But repetition trumps lessons learned. It's the American way.

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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