The Sopranos

Amanda Ann Klein

The 'circle of life' refers to how, in The Sopranos, the dead continuously circle the living.

The Sopranos

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Michael Imperioli, Aida Turturro, Steven R. Schirripa
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: HBO
US release date: 2007-04-08

Note: This essay reveals plot points already aired.

Nearly two years have passed since viewers watched, slack-jawed, as Adriana (Drea de Matteo) was shot in the woods by Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) and Tony (James Gandolfini) shot his favorite cousin, Tony B. (Steve Buscemi). For the characters, however, only one year has passed between then and the sixth season's first episode, "Members Only," which aired 12 March. Janice (Aida Turturro) has given birth to a baby girl, Tony and Carmela (Edie Falco) are back together, and Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) is running the families from prison.

An opening montage briefly established characters in their present situations (set to William S. Burroughs' spoken word piece, "Seven Souls"), and yet, we didn't know exactly how things changed since these double executions. The apparent truces -- between Leotardo (Frank Vincent) and the Soprano clan, Tony and Carmela, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and his numerous addictions -- appeared too calm, in contrast with the furious tensions that raged at the end of Season Five. There are too many ghosts haunting this New Jersey landscape.

This episode was filled with the ghosts of The Sopranos past. The opening montage concluded with Carmela and Adriana standing inside the half-built frame of Carmela's spec house, the $600,000 "project" she was granted in exchange for allowing Tony to move back in to the Soprano home. As they looked out through the pine beams, Carmela confided, "I am worried all the time," then took a drag of Adriana's cigarette as the latter, who certainly knew what it is to worry, nodded gravely. It is bittersweet to have this glimpse of Adriana, because we know she's only a figment of Carmela's troubled conscience. The scene is prefaced with Burroughs' words, "Number six is Khaibit, the shadow, the memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives." Time has passed, as Burroughs' words indicate, and yet the past is still very much alive. The next scene, preceded by the line "Number seven is Sekhu, the remains," featured Tony, his face covered in dirt, digging holes in Uncle Junior's (Dominic Chianese) suburban backyard. Junior swore there was $40,000 buried somewhere in his yard and was fearful that Little Pussy Malanga, killed off in Season One, was after the stash. Frustrated but also deeply concerned about his Uncle's accelerating dementia, Tony barked, "Pussy Malanga's dead! Six years now. I should dig him up already!" But his offer to unearth the corpse is unnecessary -- this dead man is fully present for Uncle Junior. When problematic characters "disappear" in The Sopranos, they rarely disappear for good.

"Members Only" was also very much about the "circle of life," which Tony rechristened the "circle jerk of life" during a therapy session with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Braco). We saw the casual juxtaposition of life's pleasures and inevitable pains: Janice's baby and Ray Curto's (George Loros) funeral, windfalls of inheritance money paired with Johnny Sack's equally sudden loss of wealth, Vito's (Joseph Gannascoli) miraculous weight loss (courtesy of VH1's Celebrity Fit Club) and Tony's steady gluttony.

The circle of life also refers to how, in The Sopranos, the dead continuously circle the living. During their session, Melfi resurrected the memory of Tony's long dead mother, reminding him, "You still, after all this time, cannot accept that you had a mother that didn't love you." Of course he can't. The past has weight in The Sopranos: the childhood memory of his father chopping off the quivering pinkie of the family butcher still causes Tony to pass out whenever he attempts to eat fresh capicolla. The buried bodies of those who were whacked years ago must be repeatedly dug up and moved to new sites to avoid detection, and an oath made in youth binds a man to a life he may no longer want in his middle age.

Indeed, it is significant that much of this episode was devoted to Eugene Pontecorvo (Robert Funaro), a lieutenant and minor character in The Sopranos universe, who wished, after receiving a sizable inheritance, to "retire." But as Tony reminded him, "You took an oath... There's no retiring from this." Moments before he hanged himself in his garage, Gene paged through a family photo album, longing for an irretrievable past when he could have chosen a different future for himself and his family.

As much as "Members Only" was haunted by the past, it also pointed ahead to the future. Though Tony escaped the FBI's initial raid on Johnny Sack's house, we saw Ray Curto, moments before his own (bizarre) death, handing an FBI agent a cassette tape with potentially incriminating evidence about the boss. Curto may not be able to back the tape up in court, but surely someone will. And the tension between the mob wives will no doubt create some reverberations in the world of their husbands. Carmela, on the pretense of taking Johhny Sack's now destitute wife, Ginny (Denise Borino), for a spa date, offers to drive them in her new Porsche Cayenne ("Like the pepper"). Ginny, once the queen bee, and the (very large) apple of her husband's eye, will not stand for such humiliation at the hands of a Soprano. The delicate balance of egos and power between New York and New Jersey is crumbling.

This episode ended with yet another incarnation of the "circle jerk of life." Uncle Junior, who in his delirium mistook Tony for Pussy Malanga, shot him in the chest and then fled upstairs to hide in his closet, huddled and crying. As one Soprano boss reverts to a childlike mentality, the other seemingly approaches his death. Though it is doubtful our protagonist will die with 19 episodes still remaining in the season, the final bird's eye shot of Tony, bleeding and alone on the linoleum floor of a New Jersey kitchen, reminds us that, in the world of the The Sopranos, the past always finds a way of returning.

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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