Music

The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers

The Modern Lovers is the direct link between the proto-punk of the Velvet Underground and the new wave era. Later, the album would influence countless indie and alternative acts.


The Modern Lovers

The Modern Lovers

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2007-08-28
UK Release Date: 2003-08-05
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"One, two, three, four, five, six" -- bomp, bomp, bomp -- "Roadrunner, roadrunner". In a matter of six seconds, you'll be ensnared by the infectious sounds of one of the greatest and most influential albums of all-time, The Modern Lovers. In 1976, the hippest punks on both sides of the Atlantic all fell in love with this LP. The Sex Pistols would later cover "Roadrunner", while original Television member and key New York art punk Richard Hell was inspired by these sounds, which were so contrary to the extravagance of mid-1970s arena rock, the too-pretty sheen of disco, and the dullness of soft rock.

Incredibly, this seminal album was released as something of an afterthought. The Boston band that recorded the songs on The Modern Lovers had already dissolved by the time indie label Beserkley decided to cobble together some old songs and call it an LP. The classic Modern Lovers line-up existed from only 1971 to 1973. And what a line-up it was! Jonathan Richman on vocals and guitar, future Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison on keyboards, Cars drummer David Robinson, and bassist Ernie Brooks (who would later play with New York Dolls frontman David Johansen). This super-group-in-hindsight cut four demo sessions during their tenure, including one with producer John Cale. This must have been a dream come true for Richman, who was hugely inspired by the Velvet Underground's melding of the classic girl group sound to late 1960s experimental rock.

This, largely, is the same sonic template employed by the Modern Lovers, but with less emphasis on the VU's artiness. Like Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman isn't exactly a singer's singer, but his vocals are unique, full of personality, and seem to perfectly match the mood of his subject matter. By contrast, while Reed was a conduit for the marginalized freaks and junkies of the big city, Richman was kind of a square, writing lyrics about loving his parents and not being on drugs. His gift has always been his ability to crack even the jaded hearts of safety-pinned punks with his wide-eyed and utterly genuine affinity for simplicity in life. While everyone from Norman Rockwell to "family values" advocates have made these same ideals seem offensive, Richman simply says what he feels: "I still loves the '50s / And I still love the old world".

Not that he's entirely stuck in the past. Jonathan also appreciates "The Modern World", proclaiming over a steadily driving rhythm section, "I love the USA / And I love the modern world / So put down your cigarette / And drop out of BU". Hey, he's not completely square after all. Timothy Leary would have been proud unless, that is, he heard "I'm Straight". Using an ironically druggy sounding track Richman presents himself as a better boyfriend choice because, unlike "Hippie Johnny", he isn't stoned. That sentiment may not be very punk rock but "Pablo Picasso" is. At least, Burning Sensations thought so when they recorded a cover for the soundtrack to Repo Man. And the song contains one of the coolest lines ever: "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole".

I could easily type on and on about every other cut on this fantastic album, but the true joy is in the listening. Suffice it to say, each song is great. "Astral Plane" is an organ-fueled trip to heaven. "Hospital" is a tender and fragile dirge that manages to avoid being maudlin and sad. "Girlfriend" is goofy fun and "Government Center" is a reverb-drenched ode to office work that makes it sound like fun to "put those stamps on the letters". I couldn't help myself but that was at least a mercifully short sampling of synopses. When the music is this uniformly excellent, it's hard to hit the brakes. Man, I've "got the radio on / I'm like the roadrunner". Yes!

Let's get back to the nitty-gritty. On this version of The Modern Lovers,(which has finally landed on US shores), Castle has re-sequenced the tracks to their correct order. Castle pushes "I'm Straight", "Dignified and Old", and "Government Center" into the realm of bonus tracks, where five additional numbers further embellish the CD. The most rewarding of these is "I Wanna Sleep in Your Arms", an up-tempo, garage-pop ditty that would've been many a 1977 punk band's best song. Less enthralling is the creeping, crawling, and awkward "Dance with Me". The other three are alternate versions of cuts from the album, with both "Someone I Care About" and "Modern World" sounding heavier and more fuzzed-out than the LP selections. The alt-take on "Roadrunner", meanwhile, is thin and distorted, like something from the Nuggets box sets.

The Modern Lovers is the direct link between the proto-punk of the Velvet Underground and the new wave era. Later, the album would influence countless indie and alternative acts. Good, lean, catchy rock 'n' roll has always sounded great, and it still does today. It doesn't hurt that the crew behind this reissue did a terrific job of adding warmth and punch to the mix, finally updating the slapped-onto-polycarbonate sound of Rhino's 1989 CD version. On any format and regardless of track order, The Modern Lovers is a timeless classic and one of the best albums of any world, modern or old.

10

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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