Reviews

South Park: The Complete Fourth Season

Todd R. Ramlow

Originally airing from April until December of 2000, the episodes take frequent aim at U.S. culture and politics.


South Park

Distributor: Paramount
Display Artist: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Subtitle: The Complete Fourth Season
Network: Comedy Central
Creator: Matt Stone
First date: 2000
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
Amazon

Like its predecessors on DVD, South Park: The Complete Fourth Season doesn't offer anything new in the way of bonuses or background on the South Park universe and its creators. Once again, the only extra is some very brief (and mostly pointless) commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone on each episode.

The South Park shenanigans are also familiar, even as their irreverence and vulgarity remain refreshing. Eric Cartman's (voiced by Parker; all characters voiced by Parker and Stone unless otherwise noted) mother is a whore. Mr. Garrison is a self-hating, closeted homosexual, at least until he finally comes to grips with his sexuality in the episode "Fourth Grade." Poop jokes and potty mouths are de rigeur. Kenny comes to a gruesome demise in every episode, and puerile humor takes precedence; the boys' new fourth grade teacher, for instance, is named Miss Choksondik, and a running gag concerns her bra-less and pendulous breasts.

But it hardly matters that such material is standard Parker-and-Stone, because The Complete Fourth Season also demonstrates how brilliant they can be. Originally airing from April until December of 2000, the episodes take frequent aim at U.S. culture and politics. "Quintuplets 2000" considers the firestorm of the Elian Gonzales case. In the pre-dawn hours of 22 April 2000, the FBI raided the home of Elian's Miami relatives, commando-style, to snatch the little boy into federal custody. The picture of a uniformed soldier grabbing Elian from out of a closet where he was hiding, with an assault rifle apparently pointed at him, caused national outrage and became yet another controversy for beleaguered Attorney General Janet Reno.

Astonishingly, the episode originally aired on 26 April, just four days after the event. Kyle, Stan, Eric, and Kenny befriend a group of Romanian contortionists who run away from a Cirque du Soleil-type circus to defect to the West. After much legal and juridical wrangling, an imaginary, still-Communist Romania demands the return of the little girls, while citizens of South Park see their remaining in the U.S. as a victory for democracy and freedom. Eventually, Parker and Stone enact the above iconic picture of Elian being plucked from the closet, but this time with Janet Reno directly holding the gun on the girls. Re-staging the case so it pits the U.S. government against a Communist regime underlines the ideological struggle and flare-up of Cold War politics instituted by the Elian Gonzales case.

Later that spring, national political turmoil raged again, this time over the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse. In "Chef Goes Nanners" (aired 5 June), Chef (voiced by Isaac Hayes) starts a petition to change the South Park flag, which depicts a group of white stick figures dancing around a black stick figure hanging from a gibbet. The white South Park residents deny the flag has anything to do with racism, asserting it is only "about" history, honoring tradition and sacrifice.

Chef is particularly disheartened when Kyle and the gang agree with the adults and don't see how the flag is racist. Eventually, the boys explain that when they look at the flag they don't see race, they only see violence, which is not all that bad, they claim, as history and people in general are incredibly violent. Chef's faith in the boys is renewed when he realizes they are not "crackers," but "color-blind," and a compromise is reached. The flag is changed slightly so the figures below the hanging man are white, yellow, red, and black. It's a lame compromise, and that's the point: it's as lame as the easy multiculturalism expressed by South Carolina's decision to keep flying the Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds, just not on top of the statehouse.

No politically engaged cartoonists could leave the year 2000 without commentary on hanging chads. In "Trapper Keeper," the secondary story details Mr. Garrison's return to teaching at South Park Elementary after his nervous breakdown over coming out. Newly assigned to the kindergarten class, Mr. Garrison's first activity is to elect a class president, which pits a boy named Filmore (an obvious play on Al Gore) against Kyle's adopted brother Ike. The class vote is tied 6-6 while a girl named Flora hems and haws for days over whom to support. When she finally casts her vote, and Ike is named the winner, Filmore demands recount after recount until he finally concedes the victory to Ike out of exasperation with the political process.

While Parker and Stone seem here to dismiss the political fallout of the Presidential election, it's hard to argue that the partisanship on both sides of the affair was petty, if not downright infantile. I, for one, am glad to see that snark-masters Parker and Stone see it for what it is and treat it accordingly.

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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