Reviews

The Evens

Jennifer Kelly

Peterborough, New Hampshire is best known as the setting for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It is not a typical stop on a rock tour.

The Evens

The Evens

City: Peterborough, New Hampshire
Venue: The “Glass Factory”
Date: 2007-06-23

Peterborough, New Hampshire is best known as the setting for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Even now, in the early 2000s, it’s the sort of idyllic white-picketed place where Emily’s “Oh, earth you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you ...” speech still makes some sense. It is not a typical stop on a rock tour, so when I saw a poster in a local record store promoting a Saturday night show by the Evens at a place called “the Glass Factory,” I did a double take. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. The Glass Factory, it turns out, doesn’t really exist in the four-walls-and-a-roof sense. It’s more of an experiment based around the idea that if you can persuade a band like Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina’s the Evens to play in your town, space will be found, somehow, somewhere. On this particular evening, the Glass Factory has taken residence in an Episcopal Church’s meeting hall -- a place with gleaming wood floors, high, beamed ceilings, and chairs pushed to the walls on three sides of the building. A mixed crowd filters in: one teenager in a mohawk, a dad with two pre-teen daughters, a middle-school kid in a Clash tee-shirt, most of the staff of the local used-record shop, a bunch of college-age kids, and one lady who appears to have become sidetracked while walking her dog. The dog is very quiet and no trouble at all. It’s that sort of show. When MacKaye saunters in, followed by Farina, the pair take their positions -- MacKaye on a folding chair, Farina behind the kits -- and peer out at the crowd. We are all sitting in the chairs around the edge of the room, dozens of yards from the stage. “I know you’re all comfortable in those chairs,” MacKaye says in his gentle, favorite-science-teacher voice. “But why don’t we make it a show? Come sit on the floor. If you can’t sit on the floor, bring a chair, but come up here.” And so we do, most of us cross-legged on the floor. Our new positions immediately shift the dynamic of the evening. You cannot, for instance, cross your arms very well when sitting Indian-style, because you will eventually tip over. You cannot hang back and look ironic. It becomes apparent that MacKaye is just as surprised to be in New Hampshire -- and almost as happy about it -- as we are. Cursed by proximity to Boston (and, to a lesser extent, Northampton), New Hampshire has almost no live-music venues. Even the college towns are bereft of decent spaces. (I once saw the Allman Brothers when I was at Dartmouth, but you’ve never experienced anything as surreal as “Whipping Post” performed in a hockey arena.) In his Fugazi days, MacKaye and his band made an effort to play in every state of the Union, and New Hampshire was the last one to cross off the list. MacKaye tells us he’d been looking for a New Hampshire show for a month and a half before someone had put him onto the people at the Glass Factory. “I blame it on G.G. Allin.” With that MacKaye, hunched over electric guitar, and Farina, seated behind a red drum set, begin their set with “On the Face of It,” from their first album. It is, like most of their work, an interesting blend of sparse acoustic strumming and agitated rock. MacKaye is seated, but barely, bouncing up and down on the chair, leaning far forward and then way back. It is a sort of contained frenzy. If it was physically possible to jump off an amp while remaining seated, you get the sense that he might. Farina, by contrast, seems quietly absorbed in the music, her eyes closed much of the time, her arms moving restlessly over the toms before lifting in a resounding double-snare thwack. It creates a fascinating chemistry, and you realize right away that, despite the unbalanced ways many other male/female, guitar/drum duos divide up the work, the Evens mete out responsibilities, well, evenly. They pause after the first song, and MacKaye announces that the next one, “You Won’t Feel a Thing,” will contain what he calls “an epic sing-along fadeout chorus.” The idea of a fadeout chorus, he says, is that the song might go on forever, somewhere off mic after the tape recorders have been turned off. He wants the audience to pick up the final chorus as he and Amy fade out, then, as the audience fades out, he would like us to imagine people in the neighboring houses picking up the melody... and on and on and on in a chorus that never really ends. It is a bit silly, but it's supposed to create a sense of boundless community. We sing along, pretty much all of us, toward the end, trying with difficulty to hold the notes at lower and lower volumes, and when it ends, there really is a feeling that the song isn’t really over, that it’s hanging somewhere just out of reach. Farina takes the lead on the next song, “If It’s Water,” her voice far more muscular and soulful than I expect. Indeed, throughout the evening what seemed delicate and pristine on the record turns fractious and empowered. Farina’s voice is a wonderful thing, and there are a couple of times during the evening when she seems to halt a song dead in the middle with unearthly held notes. There are a number of songs from the band’s second album, Get Evens, including “Dinner with the President,” “Cache is Empty," and "Pushed Against the Wall." These seem a bit more full-blooded and rocking than material from the first album. Throughout the evening, as you’d expect if you know the players well, there’s also a strong political bent leavened with a certain amount of self-effacing humor. At one point, MacKaye gets into a long explanation of “Dinner with the President,” saying that it’s really about the idea of winning an award, in this case dinner with the president, and how the value of any award depends on what you think of the institution that gives it. “For instance, if the NFL gave me an award, I probably wouldn’t think much of it... because I don’t play football.” Farina rolls her eyes (fondly, it seems) and says, “No, you’d be psyched.” MacKaye gets a big grin on his face and says, “Oh, yeah, I probably would.” A rollicking version of “Mt. Pleasant Isn’t” calls for another sing-along. We’re all coaxed into it (“The police will not be excused/The police will not behave”) and apparently do so well that we win another few tunes, including self-titled album highlights “Nobody Home,” “Blessed Not Lucky” and, after a quick shift in mic’ing and the shutting off of a noisy fan (the machine kind, not the human kind), the trippy/dubby “Minding One’s Business.” By then it’s ten o’clock on a warm New England evening, the fireflies are out, and the smell of peonies drifts through an open window. How strange was it to sit in front of Ian MacKaye, one of post-punk’s forefathers, on the floor of an Episcopalian church with kids and a dog in the audience? Pretty strange… but pretty good, too.

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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