Music

The Zombies: Still Got That Hunger

The celebrated ‘60s psych pop practitioners return to life with songs that bear little resemblance to those of their glory days.


The Zombies

Still Got That Hunger

Label: The End
US Release Date: 2015-10-09
UK Release Date: 2015-10-09
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Who would’ve thought that in 2015 there would be an album of all new material by the Zombies, nearly 50 years after they imploded prior to the release of the baroque pop masterpiece Odessey and Oracle? Sure 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In was technically their return to the recording world, but that album was billed as “The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent". Here they make no bones about it: this is a Zombies album through and through. At least that’s what the title would have us believe.

In the decades since their unceremonious dissolution, they’ve achieved a cult-like status thanks to the genius of Odessey and Oracle. Released after their breakup and featuring their best-known single “Time of the Season” (a song which, compared to the rest of the album, is grossly overrated and frankly out of place) that album has gone on to influence countless groups over the years, eventually achieving full-blown masterpiece status. While their earliest singles hinted at a more classically informed compositional style thanks to Argent's majestic keyboard lines underscoring Blunstone’s choirboy vocals, they barely managed to scratch the surface of what was to come.

While their contemporaries were content to explore blues-based American music, the Zombies were somewhat of an anomaly during the British Invasion. Their early singles were something more delicate, refined and largely at odds with their peers. “The Way I Feel Inside”s largely a cappella format and “She’s Not There”s spooky keyboard soul were light years removed from the more guitar-focused music of their countryman. Forgoing blues-based progressions, these early sides placed the Zombies more in line with the Kinks post-“All Day And All Of The Night” both in compositional approach and lyrical subtlety.

Their biggest creative leap would arrive in the wake of the twin explosions that were Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s. Released in 1968, a mere four years removed from their first singles, Odessey and Oracle was a revelation from note one. Unfortunately the group had disbanded prior to its release and was largely unable to capitalize on its success. While both Argent and Blunstone would continue on under their own names, neither would reach the heights of their previous partnership, the latter exploring effete pop while the former ventured into progressive rock.

After decades apart and a growing ground swell of critical and artistic praise, recent years have seen the now beloved Zombies regrouping for a handful of live performances. Several of these have since been released commercially, each relying largely on their meager but exceptional back catalogue. 2008 even saw the release of a full live recording of Odessey and Oracle featuring not just Argent and Blunstone, but also original members Chris White and Hugh Grundy.

Now, some eight years later, Argent and Blunstone return under the Zombies moniker with a trio of newcomers. That they felt comfortable enough to bill Still Got That Hunger as a full-fledged Zombies album would give hope to those who didn’t know better. But a quick look at the personnel, the album cover’s bizzare homage to their greatest album and the fact they reprise a track from their golden era (1965’s “I Want You Back Again”) would lead to some trepidation on the part of the listen. Sure the Sonics recently proved the exception to the rule and Dinosaur Jr. has produced some of their best material following their surprise reunion, but these are outliers. And as Hunger proves from its opening moments, it’s a far cry from exceptional.

Unfortunately, Hunger proves to be largely a blues-based affair that has the band sounding more like a second-rate Steely Dan (“And We Were Young Again,” in particular) than the baroque psychedelia of their original recordings. Having abandoned more esoteric arrangements in favor of straightforward progressions and scorching guitar solos, they have essentially erased that which made them a unique and compelling band in the first place. This aside, both Blunstone and Argent ably prove themselves to still be in top form. Blunstone in particular, though his voice has settled into a lower range with age, still possesses an effortlessness that has long made him one of the best, most underrated vocalists of the British Invasion years (just check out his powerhouse performance on “Edge of the Rainbow” for further proof of this).

But all of this together is not enough to make Hunger anything more than a mediocre album by a bunch of clearly talented performers. Opening track “Moving On", its title alone a declarative statement that this won’t be the Zombies of old, is off-putting for those expecting something along the lines of the crystalline piano arpeggio of “Care of Cell 44". Part of the blame rests on the shoulders of guitarist Tom Toomey, a new recruit who favors searing electric lead lines over the subtle supporting role of original guitarist Chris White. This approach sees the group sounding like your average bar band.

It’s not a total loss, however, as Argent and Blunstone prove on the gorgeous, mid-tempo jazz ballad “Little One". Performed as a duo, it echoes their previous collaborations and show what could have been had they not elected to pursue the more bombastic route present on the remainder of the album. So while it is great to have the group relishing in their well-earned praises, Still Got That Hunger proves that some things are better left dead. Further deductions for the dreadful, pandering nostalgia trip that is “New York".

5

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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