Books

Touch Me, I'm Sick by Tom Reynolds

Ever the philanthrope, Reynolds hunts through the archives of music history to find 52 of the most chillingly unhinged love songs.


Touch Me, I'm Sick

Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Subtitle: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You've Ever Heard
Author: Tom Reynolds
Price: $12.95
Length: 272
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9781556527531
US publication date: 2008-05
Amazon

Have you ever asked yourself, is all good music depressing or unflinchingly honest (that is, depressing)? Have you ever actively pursued music that you know will lower your mood? And if listening didn’t satisfy your masochism, ever wanted to read a book about depressing music?

Apparently there is an audience for such morbid contemplation, as Tom Reynolds’ first book, I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard, became something of a cult success. To be fair: why wouldn’t his glorified list in pocket-size format be a hit? He hates the Doors’ augmented 9th chords! Christmas songs by Christian Contemporary bands suck! The Smashing Pumpkins’ singer has an unusually nasal voice!

This is why those songs are depressing! Though I Hate Myself and Want to Die was at best of trivial interest (a Greil Marcus he is not), Reynolds’ prose was lightly-handled, humorous, and made a topic that could have been poorly-handled enough to compound the oppressive nature of the original material actually fun to associate yourself with.

And that’s the point: anyone can write a book full of depressing music. The love song is a more sensitive issue. Exactly what kind of sentiment, for example, crosses the fine line between romantic and slightly crazed; at what stage is it appropriate to start gushing lines from a smitten Shakespeare sonnet to a partner? Tom Reynolds addresses this more challenging question in Touch Me, I’m Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You’ve Ever Heard, the follow-up to I Hate Myself and Want to Die. His casual justification arrives in the former book’s introduction: “It seemed like the perfect follow-up, a volume about obsession to complement one about depression.”

A collection of songs in the height of ecstasy might have been a better counter to a countdown of suicidal intent, but who wants to read about shiny happy people holding hands, anyway? Continuing in his introduction to Touch Me I’m Sick, the author portrays himself as lone soldier in his devoted quest to find obsessive stalker anthems. People were only too happy to help him locate the downers for his first novel, he bemoans, yet they run for the hills as soon as he looks for a creepy love song outside of “Every Breath You Take”? Reynolds wants the unnerving, gregarious, and perverse; the ephemeral, conditional, narcissistic, and ‘whacked’ musical gestures of our iPod generation.

The stereotype of a cynical middle-aged listener, he muses that “love once inspired sonnets, plays, and novels. Now it comes with pre-nuptials agreements and publicists.” Yes, Reynolds appears to champion the popular but dull theory of a decline in society since the golden olden times, yet underlines it with sharp wit and examples, the following being my favorite:

Early popular songwriters ... employed a nuance in their lyrics not often found today. Let’s compare:

"Someday, when I’m awfully low, and the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, And the way you look tonight."

(Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’)

With:

"I want to fuck you like an animal." (Nine Inch Nails, ‘Closer’)

Of course, it could be pointed out that Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields were unlikely to have had access to drugs, scary industrial music and a downward spiral when recording “The Way You Look Tonight” ... but when it comes down to it, the great thing about the broadness and freedom of popular music is that literally everybody can put together a mixtape on a genre, whether that’s acid house, an ode to a lust-driven stalker, or a lollipop as a metaphor for oral sex.

Which is why Reynolds is as qualified as anyone else to be writing on the creepy love song. His everyman analysis, dripping sarcastic sense of humour and readiness to throw personal experiences into his writing makes Touch Me I’m Sick an easy, enjoyable, immersing read. My copy alone has convinced four others to get one since I bought it at Christmas (and I’m still counting).

Reynolds treats his audience like we’re in on his joke ... that being, presumably, that he’s a poor but brilliant artist who must dissect some of our culture’s more embarrassing musical achievements for the sake of his own intelligence. He talks down on the bands and musicians he’s reviewing with hyperbole, ironic distance and condescension, and openly admits his arrogance. There’s probably a whole message on our consumer-driven society that you could take out of these pages.

His writing is also more assured throughout this literary mixtape than it was in I Hate Myself and Want to Die; he doesn’t bother to test the waters or speculate, and is more willing to experiment. As with his previous work, the book is split into ‘categories’, these including ‘Death Becomes Us’ (‘corpse-happy songs’), ‘I Want to Fly Like An Ego’ (‘anthems to self-love’), ‘Love’s Just Another Word for I Want to Eat Your Liver’ (‘devoted to women artists’) and a whole section set aside for songs named “Butterfly”.

Inside these pages, he writes as duplicit personalities, as a rock historian, as a spectator to a sexual act between a lesbian couple (to the music of Melissa Ferrick’s “Drive”), as an exasperated man on the receiving end of a CHAI (Chicks Holding Acoustic Instruments) rant, as a ‘Beatles expert’ investigating the murderously bitter “Run For Your Life” and, when the occasion calls for it, as the artist themselves. (Author’s note: Reynolds doing Fergie is hilarious)

He snidely condemns rap music in a take on Eminem’s “Stan” and pours poison on several much-maligned ‘80s hits and -- ahem -- Kevin Federline’s “Lose Control” (“Kevin Federline is the Messiah of celebri-dicks”). The book’s major shortcoming is that it takes scandals and incidents which have already been parodied to death and uses them as basis to criticize. Case in point: Ashlee Simpson’s lip-synching (to which Reynolds responds by ‘type-synching’, which has to be read to be believed) and George Michael’s arrest, re-imagined in relation to “Father Figure.”

These two chapters of Touch Me I’m Sick aren’t half as clever or funny as Reynolds thinks they are, and his holier-than-thou attitude to pop becomes tedious by the book’s end (read: his take on Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty”). His writing is strongly reminiscent of that of Dr. David Thorpe, another antagonistic yet undeniably amusing ‘critic’ who garners publicity by feigning to hate everything popular, acclaimed or a little left-of-center.

Should you stop to consider the subtext of Reynold’s humorous pieces on creepy love songs, there is not a lot in Touch Me I’m Sick containing depth or substance. That said, me attempting to take him to task for this, or his crude dismissal of several entire genres of music, or even his failure to look past Eddie Vedder’s blurry intonation or the language barrier when reviewing the music of Pearl Jam and Rammstein, respectively, would probably be a waste of time, while drastically missing the point of this collection.

Touch Me, I’m Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You’ve Ever Heard begs you not to take it seriously, and is just too exuberant and light-hearted not to be enjoyed. Besides, as is the glory of the mixtape, it’s a great way to discover new music.

7

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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