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David Swerdlick

The most important music video of 2005 is Green Day's 'Wake Me Up When September Ends.' It offers a nuanced look at how the ongoing war and the past four years of U.S. politics have eroded the faith of many Americans in the values, spirit, and future direction of a country that calls itself 'the land of the free and the home of the brave.'

Linda (Meryl Streep): Did you ever think life would turn out like this? ld turn out like this?
Michael (Robert De Niro): No.
-- The Deer Hunter (1978)



The most important music video of 2005 is Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." It offers a nuanced look at how the ongoing war and the past four years of U.S. politics have eroded the faith of many Americans in the values, spirit, and future direction of a country that calls itself "the land of the free and the home of the brave." What makes "September" noteworthy as an artistic statement is that it is a measured and open-ended critique of the current societal ethos, rather than a dogmatic and oversimplified expression of outrage.

"September" tells a familiar story: two middle-American young people (Evan Rachel Wood, Jamie Bell) declare their love for each other in a brief, but intense dialogue scene set in a picturesque field of tall grass gleaming in the sunlight. They don't have anything in the world but each other, and that is all they need or want. She says, "Don't ever leave me," and he replies, "I won't... I won't." The music starts and a montage pays tribute to their carefree courtship -- at a carnival, at a birthday party, kissing and playing video games in their parents' spare room. The enviable bliss comes to an abrupt end as the music stops and gives way to a heated exchange. She cries, "How could you do this to me?" Wanting to explain why he has enlisted, but not finding the right words, he shouts, "I thought at least of all people, you would understand why I did this! I did this for us!"

The music kicks in again, as the images cut to young guys of different backgrounds marching off a military bus and into a military barber chair where their hair is unceremoniously sheared off. In the next sequence, the young man is in a Middle Eastern town, with bullets and bombs flying, while a hijab-clad mother and her children try to stay out of the way of the fighting. As the music crescendos, there is a series of images of urban combat, including a soldier blindly firing a Humvee-mounted .50 caliber machine gun as others take cover. The now chastened young soldier takes cover behind a concrete wall, looking out to see chaos, death, and destruction, not sure what he should do next. The video ends with the young woman, alone on the rusty bleachers of a high school playing field, her own words echoing in her head: "No matter what, you'll always have somebody here for you. I'm never gonna leave you."

"September" presents what seems to be a single perspective: the main characters are working-class Whites. But they also represent the inner-city, immigrant, and farm kids, who along with their working-class White counterparts have served disproportionately in this war. Part of the message is that these are regular folks -- many of them teenagers -- whose lives have been drawn into a geopolitical conflict, largely apart from their experience and understanding. The battle scene depicts soldiers fighting courageously, but shooting aimlessly at an unseen and undefined enemy. In this way, "September" is both sympathetic and critical, but doesn't condescend to soldiers and their loved ones.

The characters also become symbols of the dissonant perspectives within a divided society. The young woman represents a segment that feels left behind emotionally and intellectually. The couple's argument is emblematic of the tension in the culture today. If she didn't still love him, it wouldn't be so hard for her to see him go away to war, but she does, and so his departure -- against her wishes -- and betrayal of their partnership is almost unbearable for her.

The young man embodies another point of view, committed to the idea that the war effort is a cause is worth killing and dying for, and the key to a secure future. But conviction quickly turns to confusion. When the soldier hesitates behind the wall with his M-16 pulled back, his look doesn't say that he's scared to fight or even afraid to die. But it conveys a sense that he is unsure of why he is where he is and whether or not he wants to re-engage. His look says that he has come to the abrupt and sad discovery of his limited options. Green Day's criticism of the war is illustrated in this moment, when the young soldier has lost confidence in the patriotically correct motives that got him into the war, but only after he passes the point of no return. This fissure in the mythology of American motivations results when the country is at war but most people cannot pinpoint what the war is about.

Green Day's professed skepticism about the war is evident in the song's title. As frontman Billy Joe Armstrong says in a 17 November 2005 Rolling Stone feature, he wrote the song about his father. But the video transforms the lyrics into a lament about the intellectual fog that surrounds the politics, propaganda, and meaning of the war. The words "Wake me up when September ends" speak to the frustration with the morphing of the genuine patriotism demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 into the poorly defined and miserably executed "war on terror." Not coincidentally, "September" is track number 11 on the album American Idiot. When Armstrong sings, "As my memory rests / But never forgets what I lost," he is signaling a collective longing for less fearful times -- only a bit more than four years ago -- and the words "Drenched in my pain again / Becoming who we are" forecast the regretful potential of the future.

While the "September" video might be compared with the similarly skeptical Jarhead, or 1999's Three Kings, both about the first Gulf War, it most closely tracks a Vietnam War-era film, The Deer Hunter. The 1978 Oscar winner for Best Picture examines the paradoxes of war in an unusual way. The first hour-plus of the film is devoted to a group of friends preparing for a wedding, including a male-bonding deer hunt. The traditions and beliefs of their Greek American blue-collar community are laid out, then turned upside down when the film shifts from small-town Pennsylvania to rural Vietnam. In the same way, "September," directed by Samuel Bayer (of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" fame), conveys the stark contrast between classic American teenage romance and the strain of close combat.

"September" has been replaced recently on the video charts by My Chemical Romance's "Ghost of You," a weaker song and lesser video, but a follow up on the same theme of fractured mythology. MCR's video portrays the band members as clean-cut American G.I.'s, with fresh-faced young women at a 1940s USO dance. These images are intercut with those of the soldiers storming Normandy Beach, using identical staging and camera angles as those in the opening of Saving Private Ryan. Eventually the scenes collide, and the ocean waves break across the dance floor, washing away their protected innocence and along with it, their pristine American experience.

Green Day long ago moved beyond being strictly punk, into the general category of big rock band, and MCR, while throwing off an emo/goth vibe, is best described as rock/pop. This evolution was addressed by The New York Times' Jon Pareles in his 3 September 2005 review, noting that Green Day "fulfilled the long-delayed promise that punk rock could triumph in the pop Top 10." It might seem counterintuitive that a mainstream group like Green Day would be responsible for the most visible protest art of the past year, but it makes sense when viewed in the context of the current culture. In the Rolling Stone profile, drummer Tré Cool notes that many young soldiers are drawn to the military by aggressive marketing campaigns for recruitment. In response, he says, "The video is like a commercial for free thought -- or peace -- using the same tactics that the government uses to get people in the Army."

In the Vietnam era, youth culture contributed much to the anti-war movement, in part out of young people's desire not to participate in the war. Today, it is still largely people in their late teens and early 20s fighting, but the various protest efforts have been led by and largely made up of older adults. It follows then that the first widely recognized anti-war video comes from a group that has been in the public consciousness for over 10 years and is made up of mature performers in their mid-30s. Although the rock community has produced earlier and more forceful dissent, such as NOFX's 2003 The War on Errorism and the 2004 punk rock compilation Rock Against Bush, their efforts have reached a relatively small audience, and their much less commercial songs produced no videos. In 2004, Jadakiss' "Why?" was the most notable protest from hip-hop. It reached a wide audience, but it was less focused on the war and more on the Bush era in general. In a cultural space dominated by media conglomerates, commercial websites, and post-literate teenagers, the mega-group Green Day reaches and represents a broader demographic.

In the last scene of The Deer Hunter, Michael, Linda, and their friends are gathered together following the funeral of their friend Nick (Christopher Walken) whose remains are brought back from Vietnam. One of them begins to sing "God Bless America" and they all eventually join in. They cling to what is left of their belief in the ultimate good in themselves and their way of life. In that way, the young woman who sits alone at the end of September beckons to the young man, asserting that her love is stronger than his mistakes, and that all can still be made whole if he will only find his way home.

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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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