Reviews

Tilt: The Complete First Season

Nikki Tranter

The players in Tilt have so little respect for poker that the honor of the game is lost amid shaky deals and legs getting snapped.


Tilt

Distributor: Buena Vista
Cast: Michael Madsen, Eddie Cibrian, Kristin Lehman, Todd Williams, Chris Bauer, Don McManus, Kenneth Welsh
Subtitle: The Complete First Season
Network: ESPN
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-06-14
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

The DVD set of Tilt's freshman season includes first-rate extras that serve the program well. But even with the outtakes, deleted scenes, and a 20-minute featurette that includes all cast members, set tours, cast auditions, an alternate final episode ending, as well as a half-hour segment from the 1998 World Series of Poker, the series itself remains utterly unremarkable.

Set in the world of professional poker, Tilt centers on three apparently brilliant players who return to Vegas' Colorado Casino to take on super-player and former world champ Don "The Matador" Everest (Michael Madsen). He has cheated each in the past. Eddie (Eddie Cibrian), Miami (Kristin Lehman), and Clark (Todd Williams) are summoned by Seymour Annisman (Kenneth Welsh), a guy with his own reasons for wanting to take down the Matador. The threesome arranges to play lots of poker to raise the amount necessary to challenge Matador to a game, planning to employ an array of cheating techniques -- hand jives, winks -- to get back what they lost, and perhaps grab a bit that elusive winner's glow. It turns out (shock!) that the Matador's not so easy to dupe. Additionally, he's got problems too, particularly Lee Nickel (Chris Bauer), a crazed cop who believes the Matador killed his brother.

If only the writers had decided on the most important of these angles and played it to the end, instead of tossing in so many characters, so many backstories, so much to draw and arc and resolve. It's not that the plot is overly complex; it just takes too long to get moving and then veers off in odd directions, like Clark taking a job as a broker, or Robert Forster appearing as Eddie's dad, only to disappear in the next episode. Even the three players' objective misses the mark: you'd think the game to take down the Matador would be the big climax, right? Well, it happens somewhere around the middle of the season, takes all of three minutes, and our "heroes" wind up back at square one.

Aside from this lame pay-off (the Matador knows they're cheating after about a minute -- so much for their skills), what made these kids think it was going to be easy to beat a guy who can "see into [people's] souls"? Still, they try again, and they keep losing. Until the end, of course, when hotshot Eddie battles the Matador at the final table of the World Series of Poker (complete with ESPN commentators and neon signs for Bud Light and Toyota all over the place).

By this time, you're so confused as to whom you're supposed to be rooting for that the outcome doesn't matter. The game gets lost. Poker games usually occur at the end of episodes and rarely continue for more than one or two scenes. Any poker-watcher knows that it's the silences in front of the felt, the subtleties of play, that make the game exciting. Tilt fills its game scenes with stupid commentary from the Matador and lame retorts from bad players. These are supposed to make the challengers seem like experts, but you'd think the writers would want to have them exhibit real playing skills if the point of the show is that they're Masters of the game preparing to battle the Grand Royale Master.

Creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien (also the writers of 1998's Rounders) offer little explanation of their thinking in the Episode One commentary. They're more interested in pointing out references to Scorsese flicks and Rocky movies (by the way guys, Rocky smacked Creed in II, not III). At one point, just as one is about to explain the reason for slow reveals and complex plot twists, the other guy stops him with a shout: "Top Gun reference!" and, again, discussion about Tilt falls by the wayside.

When he does talk about the show, Koppelman offers this:

As poker has become really popular... we can't help but remember that this is a back room game originally and its roots are in roadside gamblers who would go from town to town and try to survive on their wits and had to learn to defend themselves against cheaters and against being robbed and against crooked police. Legends of the game who are now playing in this clean environment have come from a place that was the opposite of that and we thought it would be really interesting to set up a fictional context where those worlds were in opposition and where the old school way with cheating and angle-shooting came up against this new school, where these guys are like athletes going from tournament to tournament to try to win glory.

This would have been excellent. But Tilt gives one the sense that casinos are rigged, cheating is rampant, and there's little point even trying to become skillful in a game so hopelessly corrupt.

Perhaps it's a fallacy, but the idea that champions like T.J. Cloutier and Hoyt Corkins rose through the ranks in similar style to the Matador and his cronies doesn't fill this poker-TV fan with too much glee. The players in Tilt have so little respect for poker that the honor of the game is buried amid shaky deals and legs getting snapped.

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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