Music

Patti Smith: Land (1975-2002)

David Pyndus

Patti Smith

Land (1975-2002)

Label: 1975-2002
US Release Date: 2002-03-19
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Land is the long past due collection of Patti Smith's greatest hits, the joke being that she lucked into a radio hit once with a tune she almost didn't record because it sounded too much like a pop song. Yet that hit, "Because the Night" was a song she carefully re-crafted in her own image, adding lyrics and a feminine attitude far removed from Bruce Springsteen's world of Jersey greasers.

The fact that other songs from her early albums never charted is as elusive a mystery as there can be, because "Dancing Barefoot" (a gorgeous love trance that opens Land) and "Frederick" (a swirling spacey sonnet to late husband Fred Sonic Smith) have stood the test of time along with much of her work. Though Smith's output since her mid-'90s comeback has been equally engaging, a trio of singles released since then represents an assortment of styles and themes, which never caught the mainstream. They are all included here, along with early standouts like her career defining rendition of Van Morrison's "Gloria" and her ode to society's misfits "Rock N Roll Nigger".

In a modern irony, the official single for Land is a slinky cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry", the number one song which kept Smith's lone hit co-author Springsteen from achieving that singular position himself back when they duked it out on rock radio. While the song loses much of its funk, it also thankfully eschews the tinkling synthesizers, making Smith's version sound purely sensual on one level (the way she moans "touch if you will my belly / Feel the way it trembles inside…"), and vaguely political as well as if this is her musical response to the Sept. 11th attack (as she wails "oh darling, doves are crying . . .").

"When Doves Cry" is one of four new tracks on the two-disc collection, which covers Smith's career from its embryonic stage to live shows from the band's European and US tours last year. A very early recording, "Piss Factory", a poem about slaving at a dead-end job backed by pianist Richard Sohl from her original band, has been cleaned up sonically so there is more of a balance between the two musicians than on the rare Mer Records single. Long a holy grail among collectors, the piece was recorded before Clive Davis signed Smith to Arista so most thought it unobtainable, but the prose poem -- where Smith rails about her desire to "get on the train to New York City" and become a star and never return to her dreary life in New Jersey -- is one of the stellar highlights on Land.

Much is made of the fact that fans were polled by Arista seeking feedback on which songs should be included in the first disc of the collection. As a longtime fan, I submitted a response to the record company, hoping to hear an impossibly hard-to-find B-side from 1978, and a live cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" from 1998, but my request went unheeded. It doesn't matter as Arista did a commendable job without me, especially considering this is her swan song for a major label that apparently does not want to justify art for art's sake any longer.

The other part of the collection was chosen and arranged by Smith and her band, and they picked wisely, with the modern call-to-arms "Dead City" as powerful as older kick out the jams rockers like "25th Floor". A pair of sweet outtakes from her 1996 comeback album, one of them featuring the twin guitars of CBGB alum Tom Verlaine on electric and the late Jeff Buckley on acoustic, show she's got plenty of ideas still floating around. She confirms that with the newest song, a percussion-happy odyssey about our unending quest for knowledge called "Higher Learning", showcasing Smith's surprisingly coherent clarinet playing.

Smith and band (they're no longer the Patti Smith Group, even though guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty have been glued to her from the start) will be touring this summer to support their legacy. Uninitiated fans should do their part to support them in person, because Smith is such a believer in symbolism that the liner notes make one pause. Before retiring from the music business in 1979 to raise a family, she called her album Wave (as in goodbye) but no one outside her inner circle knew. In the closing notes on Land, she writes: "I leave you this work . . . Farewell, friends." Whatever she means, this collection is cause to celebrate an artist whose vision is as inspiring as most commercial radio play lists are not.

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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