South Park

Bill Gibron

Parker and Stone are like observational stand-up comics, without all the wry self-referencing and glib performance shtick.

South Park

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Gracie Lazar, Mona Marshall
Network: Comedy Central

Here's an idea for the next unmanned space probe NASA sends into the deepest reaches of our galaxy. Instead of placing generic images of humanity or some recording of the U.N. Secretary General spouting, "Hello!" in 67 languages, just deliver a season of South Park. It may not present the best and brightest vision of life in these United States, but it will surely provide them with the most insightful and honest view of our vanishing culture ever to call itself a cartoon.

Still going strong after eight seasons (the ninth began this past March) South Park is the sole show on basic cable that completely understands how to do satire. Whether it's George Lucas, Osama Bin Laden or Russell Crowe, no famous face, no infamous situation or arcane reference is safe from ridicule. Through the four main characters -- all voiced by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone -- the show consistently renders a crude litmus test of American values.

In the brilliantly titled "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow," Stan and Cartman cause a dam to burst, flooding the nearby city of Beavertown. As helpless citizens wait to be rescued, the blame game begins. Some point to FEMA, while others contend that "George Bush doesn't care about beavers." News stations "report" inflated death tolls and grievous acts of looting, rape, and cannibalism. Everybody goes apeshit when they learn that global warming is the "official" cause of the disaster.

The episode is not just a jab at the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. The pop cultural target this time is Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow. Parker and Stone said in interviews during production for Team America: World Police that they originally wanted to take on Tomorrow as the premise for that film. Refitted for South Park, outsized dialogue and plot points that seemed semi-sensible on the big screen now shrivel up and stink.

As writers, Parker and Stone are like observational stand-up comics, without all the wry self-referencing and glib performance shtick. In South Park, they take regularly aim at racial prejudice, religious hypocrisy, radical political agendas on either side. When steroids became an issue in baseball, the South Park boys discover that their handicapped friend Jimmy is using the "juice" to get ready for the Special Olympics. Paris Hilton's quest for some manner of sluttish immortality leads the little girls in town to buy her Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset. This season has seen the series tackle hippies, the PSP, and the sex change operation.

Just as often the series takes another route, exaggerating holy hell out of a subject, and accenting it with outlandish profanity and toilet humor. Consider the persistently sour relationship between Cartman and Kyle. While the latter thinks his piggish friend is a prick, Cartman has boiled his ersatz-buddy down to one word -- Jew. Kyle, of course, dismisses this judgment as anti-Semitic, but Parker and Stone continue to explore the rationales for such slanderous stereotypes.

In "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow," Cartman and Kyle have one of those elephantine action movie showdowns on a bridge that's about to collapse. As fire rages all around them, Cartman won't let Stan pass until he gets his hands on his "Jew gold." At first we wonder if this is just some sophomoric euphemism, but the belligerent butterball goes on to explain himself. All Jews, he argues, carry little brown satchels of gold around their necks, and he wants Kyle's. The threatened boy acts like his pal is insane, but eventually, he reveals two sacks around his neck. One contains the real gold. The other is a decoy, which he carries to be prepared for precisely such situations.

Such overkill is South Park's strong suit. By revealing the truth of certain stereotypes -- some blacks have "rhythm" and are good athletes, and a few gays are "swishy" and promiscuous -- the series repeatedly shows the ludicrousness of broad labels. Famous for its cutouts, the series is built on three-dimensional characters, carefully finessed and complicated. Token Black (his name) may be rich and snotty, but when called on to play the bass, or sing with soul, he answers the racial call. Mr. Garrison, the boys' occasionally closeted teacher, has a sex slave assistant instructor who lisps and defends his sexual proficiency (he even defeats Ms. Hilton in a "whore off").

"Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow" features this same daffy double standard. The journalists here are excitable hype-mongers who will do anything to grab ratings, prompting a rapid response -- panic. The government's incompetent bureaucrats fail to grasp even the simplest of scientific concepts. When forced into action, however, they are efficient in curbing disaster. South Park regularly exposes both hypocrisy and humanity, with fart jokes to ease the pain.

It's no surprise that Parker and Stone found the potential parody in Katrina. As they have with almost every other major news event, from the Iraq War to the Elian Gonzalez incident, they use the show to channel their chagrin over the hideous ways society stumbles under pressure. Unlike sunshine sitcoms which paint the planet as a thriving paradise of quips and irony, South Park cuts through the crap and tells the truth. So, if aliens from another world want to know what's really happening, they should seek out a satellite signal from South Park's endless reruns on Comedy Central (and this year, in syndication to local TV stations). But if those aliens muck up an invasion, they'll be the target in the next week's episode.

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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