Music

Souvenir

Bill Gibron

Back in the days before VCRs and sell-through VHS/DVD titles, a soundtrack was your only tactile souvenir of any entertainment experience. Certainly, you had your memories, and the emotions created or considered via the film, television show, or musical in question, but the only real way to relive the moment -- at least in your mind -- was to trot on down to your local record store and pick up the official companion LP.


Phil Collins, Various Artists
Tarzan, The Broadway Musical: Original Cast Recording

(Disney)


John Ottman
Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture

(Warner Bros.)


Hans Zimmer
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - The Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack

(Disney)


The Crystal Method
Drive: Nike + Original Run

(iTunes)


Graham Reynolds
Scanner Darkly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Lakeshore/Warner Bros.)


David Julyan
The Descent: The Original Soundtrack Recording

(Cooking Vinyl)


James Newton Howard, Bob Dylan, Whisper in the Noise, Amanda Ghost, Silvertide
Lady in the Water: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Decca)


Various Artists
Brothers of the Head: Music from the Motion Picture

(Milan)


Various Artists
Scoop: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Decca)


Various Artists
Miami Vice: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Atlantic/WEA)


Various Artists
Snakes on a Plane: The Album

(New Line)


Various Artists
7th Inning Stretch: The Official Soundtrack to the ESPN Television Special

(Koch)


Various Artists, Dan Milliman
Peaceful Warrior: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Lakeshore)

Back in the days before VCRs and sell-through VHS/DVD titles, a soundtrack was your only tactile souvenir of any entertainment experience. Certainly, you had your memories, and the emotions created or considered via the film, television show, or musical in question, but the only real way to relive the moment -- at least in your mind -- was to trot on down to your local record store and pick up the official companion LP. A look back at the history of the Billboard charts confirms this -- all through the '50s and '60s, soundtracks did incredibly well with audiences, with Great White Way triumphs like West Side Story and My Fair Lady achieving massive mainstream popularity. By the '70s, it was John Williams and his work on Jaws, and more specifically, Star Wars, that created a commercial frenzy.

But as the years wore on, the basic instrumental score was replaced by a more teen-friendly, pop song oriented approach. Tapping directly into this growing demographic, compilations for such films as Top Gun, Footloose, and The Breakfast Club became cultural, as well as financial, milestones. Unfortunately, home video more or less destroyed all that. The rationale, of course, is simple: why own just the music from a movie, when you can own the film itself. Certainly, there were flaws in this logic. Sometimes, a song featured prominently on a tie-in album barely made an appearance in the film and most music fans weren't about to fast-forward a beloved videotape just to re-experience a 30-second clip of a favored track. While the VCR and the DVD player were not the sole technological elements that conspired against the soundtrack, it was the marketplace that measured, and then modified, their importance.

In fact, unless you're talking about the original cast album from a current Broadway show (or television production), the release of an accompanying CD is usually no cause for concern. Even blockbusters like The Matrix and theatrical successes like Wicked barely register a blip on the common cultural consciousness. Take Disney's latest attempt at mainstream musical success. Following close on the heels of Beauty and the Beast and the inventive, if overhyped, The Lion King, the House of Mouse asked former Genesis frontman Phil Collins to expand his work on their 1999 animated adventure Tarzan, turning it into a full-scale theatrical extravaganza. Writing a series of new songs, while modifying others that appeared as part of the original score, Collins concocted his typical trite and twee compositions. He then made sure to add the prerequisite jungle rhythms and occasional tribal chanting to modify the MOR mix.

The result is an original cast recording that is solely saved by the actors, not the man behind the music. All throughout this similar sounding sequence of songs are an amazing array of vocal performances, examples of how trained professionals within an equally serious setting can draw emotion and meaning out of even the most mundane tune. The proof is in the comparison. When John Strickland (as the legendary ape man) sings a poignant ballad about his search for identity ("Everything that I Am"), there is a power and resonance in Collins' regretful lyric. But when the artist himself reprises the tune as a "bonus track" on the LP, it sounds wheezy and bored -- the characteristic adult contemporary drivel. In fact, everything about Tarzan screams of homogenization and blandness. If it weren't for the actors behind the voices, these plain pop anti-show tunes would barely register at all.

Tarzan symbolizes one of the many reasons why the soundtrack, as an experience keepsake, is floundering. The Broadway musical score has lost a lot of its luster since the days when A Chorus Line, Cats, or Rent made a dent in the charts. While the cultural significance of such a souvenir has a lot to do with the availability of multimedia options since the early '90s, there is also an elitist view of the stage show that tends to drive this downward trend. Indeed, the musical art form is viewed as something haughty and non-populist, pushed by the wealthy patrons of New York's theater district. The connection to the common man is lost amidst the glitz and gaudiness of the overall environment. Still, the soundtrack of said shows remains a vital link in its life. It provides an obvious immortality to a very transitory entertainment ideal.

The Cineplex of the Mind

In some ways, this is the thinking behind the cinematic soundtrack. While the preservation of film has come a long way in the century since the start of commercial moviemaking, the music behind a production is still seen as a lasting memento of the overall production. That is why with most soundtrack albums, the intent is simple -- provide the musical cues employed by the production, preserve the performances, and consider your contractual obligation to the composer over. Maybe even give the man (or woman) a chance to write some insightful liner notes. Use all your marketing savvy to link the CD to the movie, add in a few bonus features (extra tracks, remixes, DVD content), and pray that the public shows some interest.

This is definitely the approach to many of the current collections in the marketplace, and one followed closely by John Ottman's slight and superficial score for the Summer 2006 disappointment Superman Returns. Included amongst the cloying, copycat compositions (more on this in a moment) are computer-accessible trailers, and a mild making-of featurette. Hoping that by taking a "digital" approach to the presentation, much like their aluminum disc brethren, they can amplify the attention on the title, Warner Brothers and Rhino want you to believe you are getting more bang for your instrumental buck. Unfortunately, what you end up with is one of the oddest movie soundtracks in memory, festooned with similarly unimpressive facets.

Ottman makes it very clear in his comprehensive essay that he feels an almost nerd-like loyalty to the original 1978 version of the Man of Steel's story. He even carried this concept over into his work on the music for the movie. Instead of coming up with his own themes, styling the sonic signatures to mesh with a post-millennial approach to the character, both he and filmmaker Bryan Singer decided to rip off almost everything that director Richard Donner and composer John Williams created nearly three decades before. In fact, there are so many musical "shout outs" to the previous work by the legendary blockbuster composer that you keep looking for his co-credit on the tracks. Even more disconcerting, Ottman employs a wild, unruly style when forced to fend for himself. During the "Main Titles", we shift from the obvious Williams riffs to an odd, almost spaghetti western feel. Eventually what we learn is that Ottman intends to reference (or "pay homage," if you like) to many of the silver screen's more determined music masters. There are hints of Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, Phillip Glass, and even Danny Elfman in his compositional crazy quilt. While there is some inherent beauty to much of what Ottman attempts ("How Could You Leave Us?" and "You're Not One of Them" are delicate and nicely drawn) the constant referencing of others' work makes for an ultimately unsatisfying experience.

It's the same with another summer 2006 soundtrack -- except this time, the composer appears to be plagiarizing himself. Anyone familiar with Hans Zimmer's work knows that he tends to borrow liberally from his past canon when he looks to his next project. In fact, most musicians tend to look backward rather than forward when faced with the daunting task of underscoring a film. It's what makes their sound distinct and their style so very much their own. But Zimmer just can't stop being Zimmer. Like his work on other films, his efforts for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel Dead Man's Chest, are all long sustained ominous notes, distinct orchestral phrasing and staccato string parts. Mixing in hints of sounds both Gothic and Gaelic, the score never really explores the considered clichés of the swashbuckling adventure. Instead, Zimmer piles on the bombast and considers his contribution just part of the movie's massive scope.

Unfortunately, it's all rather generic. Without the titles, we'd never know that "The Kraken" was written around a massive sea creature, or that "Dinner is Served" is set inside one of the film's finer action sequences (Captain Jack Sparrow's escape from a cannibalistic tribe). The nonspecific approach to the music -- never imaginative or even indicative of the environment in which it is set -- turns the entire soundtrack into a long, laborious listen. You keep waiting for something fun and up-tempo (it eventually arrives with the Riverdance outtake "Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)"), anything to break up Zimmer's seasick soundscape. With the pointless inclusion of a ridiculous remix, the problem with this version of Pirates of the Caribbean is clear. Without the Disney attraction theme song to bolster the score, and the obvious artistic decision to avoid any and all shanties, we are left with Zimmer's zombified mood music. Like Superman before, it just doesn't work without the visuals to support it.

As a matter of fact, that's the biggest problem with most movie music. Unlike a Broadway show, where narrative and characterization can be contained within the song, or something like The Chemical Method's Drive: Nike + Original Run -- a brilliant stand-alone electronic companion piece created as kind of a "virtual training partner" for runners -- most film soundtracks are lost without their images. Luckily, this is not the case with Graham Reynolds amazing work on Richard Linklater's sci-fi "cartoon" A Scanner Darkly. In a clear instance of subject matter (full-force future shock) dictating thematic approach, Reynolds relies on some tried and true tricks, as well as a few up to date inventions, to create a kind of mechanical mindfuck. He throws the entire subgenre of techno into the mix, combining ambient, house, trip-hop, and even some space age bachelor pad riffs to keep the mood off-kilter and fresh. There is even a Theremin (or the sampled equivalent of one) and some bows to the dissonant drive of industrial to further confuse them.

Granted, Reynolds has his obvious influences as well. A clear emulator of Angelo Badalamenti and his work with David Lynch, A Scanner Darkly can occasionally feel like the byproduct of a 24-hour Twin Peaks jag. There is also a reliance on the archetypal speculative fiction formulas (extraterrestrial blips and beeps, interstellar synth effects) that create an almost campy or kitsch effect. Still, Reynolds provides proof that, in rare occasions, a soundtrack can work well -- or even better -- than the film it is featured in. It is easy to see tracks like the country-flecked "Strawberry Pie" taking on a life of their own. In fact, this sort of soundtrack creates an excellent sense of cinematic synchronicity. Not only does it exist as a separate memento of the film going experience, but it is so engaging that it makes you want to see the movie it's connected to, if you haven't already.

The same can be said for David Julyan's endeavor for the indie horror film The Descent. Again, there is a main reference point to this composer's approach. Aside from the moments of terror where a cacophony of atonal horns is supposed to signify the horrific, Julyan looks to the quite capable Carter Burwell to inspire and shape his symphonics. Famous for his work with the Coen Brothers, Burwell builds layers of natural instrumentation, letting the tones merge and meld into an unsettling stormfront of emotional underpinning. It's the same with Julyan's more synthetic sonics. Aside from the obvious scare moments, which are cheap and cheesy in their brass brashness, the mood music he creates for the film really gets under your skin. You sense its atmosphere; its claustrophobic impression, and ever increasing menace. In fact, if you take away all the shrill shockwaves, you would easily have a kind of new age masterwork. By channeling instead of copying the Miller's Crossing muse, Julyan develops his own unique identity. It makes The Descent's musical companion piece that much more autonomous of its source.

With that being said, some similarly minded soundtracks just don't know when to quit. They aren't satisfied with providing a lush, evocative score that exists almost completely on its own. No, they have to go and find a way to mess it up, to draw the magic back and infuse some marketing. Lady in the Water suffers significantly from such a strategy. As one of the few excellent aspects of wounded whiz kid M. Night Shyamalan's breech blockbuster, James Newton Howard delivers some wonderfully ephemeral work. There is a real attempt here to mix the fairytale elements of the narrative with the real world setting of the story. Using arcane instrumentation to maintain the otherworldly effect and juxtaposing the delicate against the deliberate to underline the film's fractured themes, we end up with an assortment of lovely lilting moments that are, more times than not, much better than the movie they served.

Unfortunately, after 12 enticing tracks loaded with tangible structures, definitive musical cues, and an evocative sense of whimsy, we come face to face with a quartet of atrocious Bob Dylan covers. None of the interpretations, from Whisper in a Noise's Nine Inch Nails take on "The Times They Are A-Changin'" to Silvertide's quasi-rocking revamp of "Maggie's Farm", even begin to improve on the originals, while their presence here comes as a kind of sonic shock. After Howard's hour of calm, considered cinematic canvas painting, these obvious commercial ploys play as confused as the central story in Shyamalan's movie. They have no place here, except as examples of merchandising desperation. Obviously concerned that Howard's work can't stand on its own (it does), the powers that be decided to hedge their bets and toss in a few covers to sweeten the salability. Unfortunately, all it does is dampen the overall mood of the music.

In essence, this represents the dichotomy between the score and the soundtrack, which over the years have really come to mean two totally different things. The former is a look at the music specifically composed for a project. It is not usually spiked with current pop hits or golden oldie favorites. It's not composed of b-sides and outtakes from popular bands. No, it's the latter that can occasionally appear like a sub-par version of one of those Now Hear This CD compilations. Either in an original or found music approach, these are the albums that people seem to identify with far more easily than something containing nothing but evocative instrumentals. Yet, unless there is someone working behind the camera (a Tarrantino or a Scorsese) who understands how to turn a set of divergent tracks into a cohesive sonic statement, all we end up with is a glorified sampler.

Lost and Found

Now, it's true that some movies actually demand a pop song approach to their soundtrack. After all, a film like This is Spinal Tap or Hedwig and the Angry Inch is wholly made up of such specifically sanctioned tunes. They are really more like a traditional musical than any other type of film. Another recent example of this style of score comes from the 2005 novelty Brothers of the Head. A mockumentary made by real life documentarians Kevin Fulton and Louis Pepe (responsible for the brilliant Lost in La Mancha), this supposed story of the rise and fall of '70s punk band The Bang Bang has one of those typical idiosyncratic twists that indie features love to fool with. In this case, the group in question was "led" by conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (actually real-life separate siblings Harry and Luke Treadway) and fell somewhere between the Sex Pistols and Parklife-era Blur in their approach to song craft.

What we get then, as part of the wonderfully wicked "lost album" that makes up the soundtrack CD, is a crackerjack collection of fuzz guitar drive, Me Decade ear candy. With Buzzcocks-like melodies, laughable lazy sod lyrics, and a Johnny/Joey/Dee Dee inspired source of musicianship, we're awash in the three-chord equivalent of Tap's terrific mock metal. Tossing in a few live tracks and some demos to keep up the phony façade, the result is a wonderful picture of the overall production. It also illustrates how difficult it is to match music to a movie. In the case of this film, it all comes together with a power and a panache that is uniquely its own.

Still, other filmmakers try to meld already existing material to the mood and tone of their cinematic experience. Unfortunately, the results aren't always successful. One such hit-or-miss moviemaker is Woody Allen. This comedian-turned-craftsman has long believed in raiding his own record collection as inspiration for his scores. Sometimes, he manages a compelling mash-up (see Manhattan's mix of grit and Gershwin, or any of his nostalgic glimpses into New York's Tin Pan Alley past). Other times, like with his classical heavy approach for his latest film, Scoop, the combination just doesn't gel. Relying on the works of Tchaikovsky ("Swan Lake"), Grieg ("Peer Gynt"), and Strauss, Allen hopes to create an aura of calm sophistication over his London-based story surrounding an American journalist, an aging magician, and a serial killer. Somehow, when one thinks of a crime story, even one being filtered through Allen's unique sensibility, the "Sabre Dance" by Khachaturian or a Xaxier Cugat rumba doesn't instantly come to mind.

This is why filmmakers tend toward music purposefully created for their movie, or in other instances, compilations with a clear, cohesive overview. The songs selected by Michael Mann for the big screen update of his '80s cop rocker Miami Vice offer proof positive of such a strategy. Many remember the TV series for its MTV-esque approach, complete with flashy fashion and the regular injection of current pop hits. Instead of mimicking this idea for the cinema, Mann applied the same creative conceit as he employed with the film itself. Gone were all references to the original series (no Jan Hammer theme, no current chart acts) and in their place was a tendency toward techno and all its international flavorings. Even the occasional cues created by John Murphy were left off-disc, providing room for more Mogwai and Moby.

Thankfully, this is not all keyboard-based droning supported by shuffling backbeats. Because of the South American/South Beach setting within the film, there is some excellent Hispanic flair flying in between the sampled trip-hop tendencies. Both "Pennies in My Pocket" by Emilio Estefan and "Arranca" by Manzanita add significant spice to what can occasionally sound like a slow night in a European disco. Truth be told, any chance to hear Nina Simone work her low, moody magic or experience Goldfrapp's delicate danceability deserves a listen. Still, there is something strangely antiseptic about the entire CD. It feels overly programmed, almost purposefully sapped of all its eclectic juice.

Something similar happens to the otherwise peppy complement to that wacky web phenom Snakes on a Plane. Grabbing a group of post-modern rock acts who aren't afraid to pump up the volume and party, and then culling a collection of their more significant tracks, it would appear that we'd have an excellent post-modern presentation. And after hearing cuts like Panic! At the Disco's "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage" and Armor for Sleep's "Remember the Feel Real" we'd find it hard to disagree. But Snakes is equally obsessed with keeping everything "hip" and "contemporary." As a result, they actually REMIX the entire album, attaching funky dunky bass and beats to almost every track.

On the one hand, it has the desired effect. It renders the slightly distinct styles of each band into one big example of dance floor delirium, and truly reflects the spirit of the film. At the same time, it tends to wipe away the originality we expect from each performer. Indeed, should Fall Out Boy sound like Gym Class Heroes? Do we need the title cut (an original effort by Cobra Starship -- with a little help from their friends) to set the sonic tone for the entire CD?

It's a similar reaction one has to the rather odd album that accompanies the ESPN reality series 7th Inning Stretch. A supremely surreal idea, this Summer 2006 show followed Smithereen's frontman Pat Dinizo as he used baseball as a means of rehabilitation after being diagnosed with a near fatal nervous system disorder. Bloated on steroids and lost in a wave of depression, he found solace in America's pastime. With the help of his bandmates and some professional athlete-friends, Dinizo managed to cure himself both physically and mentally. It's an inspirational story that deserves an inspirational soundtrack.

Unfortunately, what we end up with is something akin to Jock Rock X. Let's face it -- any compilation that begins with George Thorogood's grossly overplayed "Band to the Bone" is too obvious for its own good. Even worse, Dinizio decided to re-record three classic tracks from the Smithereens back catalog for this project. With the rest of the group in tow, they manage to massacre their own "Only a Memory", "Blood and Roses", and "A Girl Like You". Instead of updating the originals, they bury them. While the collection also contains excellent selections from the Kinks, Todd Rundgren, and the Ramones, this is one vanity project that didn't need a digital keepsake of its time in the entertainment spotlight.

As usual, it's the unsung project, the outsider entry unknown to most of the mainstream public, to leave the biggest impression. Very few have heard of the film Peaceful Warrior, and with good reason. After only a limited showing this past June, Lionsgate has held off on a wider national release. While this may or may not be a reflection of the film's quality (it's a typical sports coming of age story with a surprisingly unique twist) or the reaction people have to another cinematic offering from scandal-plagued filmmaker Victor "Powder" Salva, it definitely undermines this terrific soundtrack album. Former gymnast Dan Milliman used the semi-autobiographic story of athletics helping to overcome adversity as a kind of trippy testament to the power of new age philosophizing. Indeed, the CD itself reflects this, offering a mixture of music and spoken word "inspirations" from the author himself.

Alternating tracks, what we end up with is an amazing array of ballads and soft rock anthems interspersed with the CD equivalent of a motivational speaker. And yet, it all works -- both as a cohesive album concept and as a souvenir. Anyone curious about the style or sentiment of this film need only listen to the amazing work of David Gray, Kelly Sweet, or Great Lake Swimmer to realize its plaintive, pastoral scope. Even without the possibility of seeing the film upon which it is based, the notion of playing to the cinema inside our mind, of recreating imagery based on the visual cues inherent in music, is strong in Peaceful Warrior. No matter the actual reality of the release, it fits the role of metaphysical and musical souvenir quite well. Too bad all soundtracks can't find this kind of perspective and balance. Maybe their pop-cultural impact would then be reestablished.

3

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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