After Absurdism, Algiers

Jacques Ferrandez's graphic novel adaptation of Albert Camus's The Stranger is a surprising salve for grown-ups.

The Stranger

Publisher: Pegasus
Illustrator: Jacques Ferrandez
Format: Hardcover
Price: $25.95
Author: Albert Camus
Translator: Sandra Smith
Length: 144 pages
Publication date: 2016-06

When every literary corner of the earth turned up the volume to praise Kamel Daoud’s debut and eventually New York Times best-selling novel, The Meursault Investigation, riffing on cult classic The Stranger by Albert Camus, did you read it? Me neither.

I loved The Stranger when I first read it in high school. Many young people latch on to the story of Meursault’s senseless crime as an allegory for the blankness of youth itself. Then those teens grow up into adults who perhaps branch out into reading on absurdism, nihilism or existentialism. These grown-ups have precious few artifacts on which to rest their weary feelings, so The Stranger has a magic that is hard to touch and that needs no accoutrement. To mess with it by making subsequent art works in response to it requires the heaviest lifting.

I skipped The Meursault Investigation because it seemed too derivative of the relationship between Jane Austen and Jean Rhys, between Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. I read both books in undergrad and hated the latter, not for its presumptuousness but for the frustration of injecting so much history into what was once a tight little allegory. Postcolonialism is very interesting to me, just like feminism and queer studies is, and I like to see the canon brought down wherever possible most of the time. But I suppose I am too bound up in continuing to love Jane Eyre and The Stranger to appreciate articulate, well-intentioned, interesting riffs on them.

For whatever has happened in my life, with all its bigness and smallness, over the past year since Daoud’s novel debuted, I felt compelled to pick up Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel version of The Stranger. Maybe the US presidential election cycle is getting to me. Maybe I just became one year older and equally wiser. Maybe it was the idea of the pictures. It’s an absurd, unaccountable contradiction that I would jump at this one when I didn’t jump at the last one. And there are really only these two efforts to respond to that magnificent little story by Camus, so we might be working our way toward flinging around adjectives like “definitive”.

Because I wanted to see Algiers. Don’t you want to see Algiers? There are more than three million Arabs living in a metropolis built by Ottoman rule, rebuilt by French rule and finally by independence in 1962, looking out across the Mediterranean toward Spain, France and Italy from the foot of the tenth-largest country in the world. It was once home to Camus. I think if a reader wants to dig deeper into a beloved novel, a reader should begin looking into the author of it. This is why biographies of writers are so popular. There are allegedly clues to the masterwork in there. One’s art follows from one’s life, and one’s life is to some greater or lesser extent a matter of one’s location.

In reading Ferrandez’s graphic novel, I quickly determined that the textual translation was very faithful. So, yes, go ahead and check that important box. As for boxes, not one page of the book has an unobstructed gridline of squares in a neat row. If the first row contains two big text boxes, then the next row has five little ones, so that the page becomes this jaggedly paced and kind of claustrophobic reading experience. I know that sounds negative; it’s a compliment if you enjoy Camus and respect that the page design can itself successfully perform absurdism. But I was surprised to find myself doing less reading and more tourism. I even went back to the book a second time just to look at the illustrations.

The majority of the two-page spreads contain a big background image, generally in the upper half, usually at the left margin and sometimes centered. These are outside of the story in two ways. As far as content, they don’t depict the characters. Their whole function is to convey the city of Algiers. Neither is there text in these boxes, only the flat, shimmering bodies of an urban space teeming with life. As far as form, they differ dramatically in both scope and depth perceptions of the landscape’s sprawl, as well as assuming a different attitude from the boxes because the comparatively harsh black ink outlines of everything within the boxes has been dropped out. As opposed to the grueling sepia tones necessary to convey the sentiments of the narrative, Ferrandez treats these background landscapes more like watercolor paintings. They are straightforwardly loving portraits of his actual home city, relatively unburdened by the heavy vibe radiating from nearby text boxes. They are an anchor, there for context.

The fervency with which I wanted to embrace Camus in my youth has been watered down a bit by Prufrockian coffee spoons. As adults, we know absurdity in the story of our own lives, where bad and strange things have happened. We begin to long not for the fiery temptation of random impulse, but for its salve, for a few minutes of peace and quiet. There's a tranquility that Ferrandez has inserted into The Stranger that was not in the original text. I may be too old now to profess faithfulness for The Stranger itself and instead find the background illustrations to be the best and most soothing part of the book. But is absurdism not meant to soothe us? No kidding; that’s its fundamental weakness as a matter of practical ontology.

You can’t go around shooting mute, anonymous Arabs on the beach. But you can sit outside your apartment for hours and do a really nice watercolor of a boat docked in the harbor, with your glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Camus was dead at 47, so he was probably just on the cusp of growing weary of his own youthful ideas. Ferrandez is 60, and it shows wonderfully in his work here to great educational effect. Rhys was in her late 70s when she published Wide Sargasso Sea and Daoud is approaching 50. Perhaps I should go back (and therefore, forward) and take another look at them, too.


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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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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