Music

Super Furry Animals: Love Kraft

Zeth Lundy

Depending on how you choose to perceive it, the band's orchestral seventh album is either one of its greatest achievements or one of its most pedestrian.


Super Furry Animals

Love Kraft

Label: XL
US Release Date: 2005-09-13
UK Release Date: 2005-08-22
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For even the most hardcore Super Furry Animals fan, 2005 has been a year of excess. It's a year that has seen the release of Songbook, an excellent collection of the band's singles; Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, frontman Gruff Rhys's lo-fi solo debut; and the group's entry in the Under the Influence compilation series. All of this impulsive, indulgent activity, arriving mostly in the form of arguably non-essential releases, is the kind of behavior you'd expect from a band looking to cover up something. Perhaps the upcoming studio album would disappoint, and the Furries, paranoid and self-conscious, were buttering us up with oodles of "minor" works. Like, guess what, kids, the Ferris wheel's busted so, like, here's some fried dough.

Depending on how you choose to perceive it, Love Kraft is either one of the band's greatest achievements or one of its most pedestrian. For this, their seventh studio record, the Furries retreat deeper into the silk-lined sanctum of orchestral rock. Love Kraft is how the Furries learn to stop worrying and love the bomb. It's the perfect soundtrack for floating on a mushroom cloud toward that inevitable doomsday: it's aware but not alarmist, gorgeously accepting of fate even if it's dying to say it told you so. If Rings Around the World and Phantom Power, the band's two most recent releases and two of its best, were sarcastic proclamations of an impending human-instigated apocalypse, Love Kraft is determined to go with the doomed flow. There are no veiled protests here; the Furries will just ride this one out, beautifully. "Kiss me with apocalypse," Rhys puns on the ambitious opening track "Zoom!", because if he can't beat 'em, he'll join 'em (winking all the way, of course).

Love Kraft swoons and reels from that solicited kiss, surrendering to whatever the world's got in store. It continues to surf on the creative plateau planted by 2003's Phantom Power; there's nothing unexpected here, none of the restless reinventions that defined their five-album run from 1996-2001. If anything, it's a doughier, more velveteen version of Phantom Power -- with the exception of "Zoom!" (a druid rock epic where the orchestra steals off for the outer reaches of the stratosphere) and the first single "Lazer Beam" (a cartoony pop scrawl of wriggling squiggles), Love Kraft is the Furries in plush bathrobe mode. Even when Rhys evokes his overtly leftist tendencies ("You say history will be your judge / But the jury's whipped, gagged, and drugged"), they're delivered via a '70s AM glaze that speak more to luscious comfort than to political agendas.

The record's MVP is (perhaps tellingly, given the sometimes lackluster effort) an honorary Furry: the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan, who contributes bulbous, Serge Gainsbourg-approved orchestral arrangements to a majority of the songs. O'Hagan's brass and strings sink into the record's cracks, equal parts Eastern and abstract, heavy on blue notes and sudden subversions, coddling them with cradle-like efficiency. It's an audacious collaboration, one that employs an imposing choir to rack the thin frame of "Zoom!" and weeps woozy strings all over tender ballads like "Cabin Fever" and "Walk You Home".

O'Hagan may also be Love Kraft's accidental savior. It's very possible that the record wouldn't be nearly as interesting without his contributions. The songs' foundations are quite simple; the compelling action occurs in the string-laden overdubs. "Zoom!", which is simply one descending progression repeated for nearly seven minutes, offers an evolutionary mirage in the barrage of expressive instrumentation -- it's all magical bursts of smoke curling around a stationary center. Likewise, each successive verse in "Psyclone!" slyly moves up a whole step while retaining the same form. Its complexities reside not in the catchy, percussive refrain, but in the crossbred counterpoint. "Cloudberries" consists of three sections, each examining the exact same chord progression and melody from a different stylistic angle. Love Kraft may not boast the Furries' strongest collection of songs, but it does make us think about new and interesting ways to look at ordinary musical constructions.

For the first time, four of the five Furries share lead vocal duties. The weaker moments are, incidentally, sung by band members not named Gruff Rhys. There's nothing wrong with the different voices; the songs themselves just aren't so strong. "The Horn" and "Walk You Home" are relatively undemanding, incidental pieces of soft pop, but "Back on a Roll" is the obligatory Ringo moment where irony stumbles into folly. It's a pseudo-stab at classic rock road warrioring that most likely ranks as the band's weakest album track to date. The short instrumental "Oi Frango" is harmless on its own, but lumped in with the other instances of sub-par tunes, increases the killer-to-filler ratio to an unnecessary high.

If Love Kraft were three or four songs shorter, would it be one of the Super Furry Animals' best records? Maybe. Maybe, like Glen emphatically snorts in Raising Arizona, this one's a way-homer: we'll only get it on the way home. Maybe we'll need the assistance of hindsight and a terrifying shared experience. Maybe some day, far into the future, we'll listen to Rhys playfully cautioning the dinosaurs, "Pterodactyl, brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex / Gather around" and think, he was talking to us. Not that we would have listened.

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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