Music

Sloan: Never Hear the End of It

Onward to infinity... the melodies and rock-star poses never stop, and neither do the emotions.


Sloan

Never Hear the End of It

Label: Yep Roc
Canada release date: 2006-09-19
US Release Date: 2007-01-09
UK Release Date: Available as import
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One trend in the 15-year-career of Canadian pop/rock group Sloan (stars in their own country, cult heroes elsewhere) has been towards excess. From around the time of their third album, 1996's One Chord to Another, and even more evidently on their fourth album, 1998's Navy Blues (a double-album in the vinyl version), they began treating each album like it was an epic rock n' roll classic. Gatefold covers, iconographic photos of the four band members in rock poses -- arms up, ready to strike guitars/drums/bass with abandon -- and songs referencing the vagabond, always-on-the-road lifestyle of the rock star. Their first live album (1999's 4 Nights at the Palais Royale) was, of course, double-live…or, come to think of it, quadruple live, in the vinyl version.

These days, their music isn't quite as in-your-face with the rock star milieu as it was back in the late '90s -- they've managed to smooth their sound out into one steady sort of melody-over-crunch style of rock. Yet still they act the parts of stars, out of sincere love for music more than wish fulfillment. And they play their style of melodic power-pop as if they're the kings of rock n' roll; that's power-pop less by a strict genre definition than by the way they play their pop songs like they're AC/DC or Led Zeppelin, or at the very least the Stones.

Excess is the name of the game in a certain way. So even though their sound isn't as excessive these days, it should be no surprise that they're still approaching their albums in a big, big way. After three comparatively small albums between 1999 and 2003 ("small" meaning compact and un-dramatic, but not out of step musically with the rest of their albums, and not without the same rock-star demeanor), they're back in 2006 with 30 songs on a single disc. And not just 30 songs, but 30 songs that range from short (52 seconds) to long (five-and-a-half minutes), and add up to 80 minutes of music. 30 songs that slam into each other, with little or no break between, the way you'd expect songs on a much shorter album (one of those 25-minutes-and-we're-out affairs) to behave.

These songs are generally of the same ilk as those on the last few, more-humble-in-appearance Sloan albums -- a spare pop sound led by melodies rather than dramatic hooks and choruses, a progressive variation on the foundation laid by their first work in this direction, 1994's Twice Removed. Combine that fact with the solid-rock, 30-songs-real-fast set-up of the album and Never Hear the End of It begins to resemble not a carefully structured epic rock album so much as a river of Sloan music, an unending, constantly moving stream of typically Sloan-esque songs. The overall de-emphasis on big hooky choruses amplifies this effect, since a persistent melodic atmosphere is what's on center stage. It becomes easy to get lost in this river of songs, to not know where you're standing. It's not that each song taken on its own wouldn't sound unique, but taken together they blend together into one body of music.

There are touchpoints along the way, musical monuments that stand taller than the others. Usually, these are the songs that vary stylistically from the rest, or those with the biggest/best hooks. The tracks in the former vein are either the power-crunchiest ("Something's Wrong", the angry punk-like "HFXNSHC") or those that find some new slant on the standard Sloan style, like the pure piano ballad "Live the Life You're Dreaming Of", or the intriguing surreal-story-song set to a folk-pop-rock structure in "Set in Motion". The songs with the furthest reaching hooks, musically speaking, also tend to be the songs with the strongest emotional hooks, too, where a feeling seems raw enough, dire enough, or bold enough to stand out within a sea of songs that often deal with emotions -- with emotional mistakes mostly, and the act of moving beyond them.

The group's twin themes as of late, as here, are music itself (the act of making it, the power of it) and how we act in life towards other people. Many of their most memorable songs resemble confessions or observations about how people act, positively or negatively (often negatively) towards the people they love. "I Understand", the album's longest song, launches with glazed-over harmonies and a great tune a hopeful quest for love based on understanding. But most of the songs possess a less confident approach to feelings. On "Everybody Wants You", bassist Chris Murphy sings in an ambiguous but at the same time confessional way about a feeling he has that's "so wrong / I hope nobody hears about it". The splendid hook of "Can’t You Figure It Out" exemplifies a sensitive sort of confusion. And "Right or Wrong" has one of the album's most memorable choruses, one that could sum up the theme behind a whole slew of Sloan songs: "Right or wrong, we're breaking their hearts again".

Pay attention to the lyrics, and Never Hear the End of It seems like not just a river of music, but a river of human emotion as well, with all human flaws, dilemmas, and idiosyncrasies running on to infinity, as the album seems to. At one point, they proclaim that it's the "Last Time in Love", but of course there will be more times, as there always is. The same goes for pop/rock gems, there's always more; Sloan is part of a historical river of creativity, not an end-all, be-all. Think of it that way, and an album that might on the surface seem like an ego trip actually comes across as quite humble, perhaps their most humble album since their first two.

The title Never Hear the End of It is no doubt a joke about how many people will listen to all 80 minutes, or a joke at the flack they expected to receive by jumping so deeply into their music, but it also works to sum up the deep reservoir that exists within this single disc -- a reservoir of tunes, of rock style and pop melodies, and of emotions. It's a never-ending whirlpool of an album, a conceptual statement about music, time, and the human experience that at the same time isn't a statement at all: just another batch of songs, containing many that rank among their best.

7

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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