Music

Silk: Always & Forever

There's a right way and a wrong way to do a cover. More than that, there's a thin line between the two.


Silk

Always & Forever

Label: Shanachie
US Release Date: 2006-10-17
UK Release Date: 2006-10-16
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Silk is back. Not the fabric, but the R&B group of the '90s, known for producing "baby-making music" and for bringing desire to a lyrical boil (as in the single "Freak Me" -- "Let me lick you up and down / 'Til you say stop"). But the group -- founded by Gary Glenn, Johnathan Rasboro, Tim Cameron, and Jimmy Gates -- is back in name only, as their latest disc, Always & Forever, presents us with a collection of covers and a heavy duty blast from the '80s.

Always & Forever reminds us of a fact we often take for granted or simply don't stop to consider -- singers and musicians are fans of other singers and musicians who, if you care to drag this out, were themselves fans of singers and musicians. Artists listen to other artists. They learn from each other and are inspired by one another. Out of respect, artists pay homage to their influences in a number of ways. India.Arie, for example, dedicated a song on her debut album, Acoustic Soul, to Stevie Wonder ("Wonderful"). Common crafted an entire album of eclectic and innovative material (called Electric Circus) in honor of his inspirations. In particular, he showed his reverence for Jimi Hendrix via the track, "Jimi Was a Rock Star". Likewise, Rosie Gaines paid tribute to Marvin Gaye on "I Want You" (the opener from her LP Closer Than Close) by including samples of his vocals in the background. And, although Rosie Gaines's song has different lyrics, "I Want You" is also a Marvin Gaye title. Mos Def also paid tribute to Marvin Gaye with "Modern Marvel", from his second album "The New Danger", using a similar method of vocal samples.

The most prevalent method for saluting an artist or a band is to perform a "cover". It's also the most abused and misused method, as I'm honestly afraid of what will happen if one more artist attempts one more Marvin Gaye remake. I fear the delicate balance between originality and fakery will be tipped in favor of the latter, causing the polar caps to melt, suspending us all in a deluge that can only be reversed by playing the original of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues".

Let's face it. It's not easy to "redo" a popular song. Usually, the song has already become associated with a particular artist or style. In fact, "not easy" is an understatement -- the task is downright daunting. Nevertheless, Silk's Always & Forever offers ten such remakes for your perusal.

This is the group's seventh release. Although Silk's previous albums have contained remakes, those albums were not exclusively comprised of covers. Judging by the material the silky singers chose to revisit, they had their work cut out for them: Switch's "There'll Never Be", Prince's "Adore", Heatwave's "Always & Forever", the System's "Don't Disturb This Groove", Al B. Sure's "Nite & Day", Blue Magic's "Sideshow", Michael Jackson's "Lady in My Life", Shalamar's "A Night to Remember", Quincy Jones's "Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)", and the Deele's "Two Occasions".

Much like Boyz II Men's 1994 cover album Throwback, Silk's Always & Forever contains songs made famous by a legion of R&B heavyweights. Not that a band like Silk should be dismissed as "lightweight", but the fact that these '80s classics will always and forever be linked to specific artists adds another set of expectations. If an artist writes and sings an original song, it's usually forgivable if I don't like it. I figure, "Hey, maybe I'll like another one." But let an artist deliver a poor interpretation of a well-known song and all hell breaks loose: "Oh, no they didn't try to sing 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' like that!"

Such is the Pharaoh's Curse that accompanies a classic song. Don't let the "Covers 'R' Us" presentation of American Idol fool you. If you really want to sing "Natural Woman", then listen to Aretha Franklin's version a thousand times, and then follow that up by listening to as many covers of the song as you can. Then decide whether you want to do it or risk pulling an Icarus in your attempt to wax nostalgic.

It happens all the time. Ever watched Showtime at the Apollo, the talent contest for amateurs seeking applause, exposure, and top honors? Typically, the contestants are singers -- though they may also be poets, dancers, comedians, or instrumentalists -- and they usually choose well-known (and well-worn) tunes by R&B and soul music legends. A strong showing garners applause. Whichever performer receives the most applause becomes the champ. On the other hand, if things don't go well, the crowd is allowed -- or encouraged, actually -- to boo the offender straight off stage. On one version of the show, a tap dancer jumps into the fray to usher the booed performer out of the spotlight, much like Savion Glover's character in Spike Lee's film Bamboozled.

Silk's Always & Forever covers wouldn't get booed. During each song, you get the impression that these guys are real fans of the original versions and the original artists. But, for me, the best covers are true interpretations of their source material. They are successful because they depart from the original versions, or the most popular ones, in a way that showcases the cover artist's creativity. Here, Silk's work never finds a point of departure or creativity. These versions are so faithful to their predecessors that the results resonate with mimicry rather than interpretations, presenting Silk as a group of skilled fans rather than musical innovators in their own right.

When I saw the album's track list, I was skeptical. I won't even pretend I pressed 'Play' with a completely open mind. As Silk member Gary Glenn explains in the press release:

"If someone has the audacity to do a Michael Jackson number or a Prince tune and do it well, or to really do justice to "The Secret Garden", then they walk away with respect from the audience. That's what we want."

Did it seem like "audacity" for Silk to even attempt to sing "Adore"? Yep. Did they do justice to the tunes on this collection? Sure, they did. So can Silk get the respect Gary Glenn was referring to? Probably so, but that's "respect" from a live audience. Silk's rendition of "Adore" parrots every high note and croon of Prince's original arrangement, complete with background vocals and sound-alike instrumentals. I actually thought it was Prince singing at first, or at least a sample of Prince's voice. As a hardcore Prince fan, I'm impressed, and, as you might imagine, hardcore fans of any artist are a tough bunch to win over. Problem is, just because I'm impressed by the imitation, it doesn't make it anything more than an imitation. Instead of demonstrating Silk's artistry, Silk's "Adore" basically reminds me why Prince is so great. The same thing happened with Al B. Sure's "Nite & Day", the System's "Don't Disturb This Groove", and the rest of the tunes -- I was inspired to quit listening to Silk so I could listen to the originals instead.

As long as we're talking about Prince, I thought Chaka Khan already explained the secret to redoing a Prince song: you have to make it your own. When Chaka Khan recorded Prince's I Feel for You (1984), Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Chaka Khan (as the rapper in the song called her) turned it into a different song, complete with an emcee, stronger synthesizers, a harmonica solo, and booming percussion. Not to mention the added layer of interpretation that comes from a woman singing a song previously sung by a man. You might say, "Well, Prince's 'I Feel for You' wasn't a famous Prince song when Chaka did it." Okay, then, what about when Tom Jones performed "Kiss", accompanied by the Art of Noise? It was weird, but Jones's attempt to find his own sound and comfort zone with the song was respectable. That's how you cover a Prince song. Otherwise, you get caught trying to out-Prince Prince, which is just not a good idea. Examples of When Doing Prince Goes Wrong would include Ginuwine's "When Doves Cry", TLC's "If I Was Your Girlfriend", Mariah Carey's "Beautiful Ones" (although Carey's approach to the song as a duet was admirable), Prince's own self-described new master of 1999 (see, even the Artist Formerly Known as Prince had trouble covering Prince songs!), and now Silk's cover of "Adore".

In my view, it's not enough to say, "Well, at least Silk can introduce these classics to a new generation of listeners." First, that's assuming this so-called "new generation" hasn't heard the tunes, which isn't necessarily the case. We shouldn't automatically assume that youth equals ignorance. Second, even if there's a generation of listeners who never listened to MJ's Thriller, Prince's Sign "O" The Times, or Al B. Sure's In Effect Mode, it's not like these works somehow disintegrated, creating a need for Silk to step in and re-sing them as closely as possible to their original form. The original versions still exist.

The best reason, then, to listen to a remake, is to hear something fresh, to listen to a band like Silk offer an interpretation of the original by being creative so as to make the experience special. Unfortunately, this never happens. And the disappointing part is that Silk's talented vocalists probably would have been up to the challenge.

5

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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