The Trolleyvox: Leap of Folly

Gary Glauber

The Trolleyvox

Leap of Folly

Label: Groove Disques
US Release Date: 2003-07-22

The Trolleyvox are a musical anachronism, creating chiming, guitar-based folk pop with female vocals that seem of another time entirely. It's different from what you're likely to hear now, and is overall a fresh sound that is at times quiet and contemplative, and always engaging. Imagine a U.S. version of the Lilac Time fronted by a warm intelligent female voice (that of Beth Filla, who seems to be all that and more).

Leap of Folly is a perfect collection for extended listening, a solid and lengthy soundtrack for lazing through a winter afternoon lost in your own thoughts and emotions. While vocalist Filla was off in grad school pursuing her master's degree, songwriter Andrew Chalfen mastered some impressive new songs that are showcased here. Chalfen, formerly of the Wishniaks and Joey Sweeney, is the main creative force behind the music, writing the songs, playing guitar, bass, piano, and whatever it takes to get his ideas across.

He is joined at various times by Greg Dubrow (of the Idle Wilds) on bass, and drum duties are split between Ken Buono (Flight of Mavis, Buzz Zeemer, Dragstrip Courage) and Bret Tobias (Moped, the Bigger Lovers).

While Chalfen is the man behind the music, the most distinctive aspect about the Trolleyvox is Beth Filla's expressive vocals. Recruited though a "vocalist wanted" ad in a local Philadelphia paper in 1996, she auditioned and won the spot in what started out first as an acoustic duo, then built slowly into a full gigging band.

Now confidently leading the way, Filla's interpretive vocals turn Chalfen's songs into magical journeys, whether floating expectantly above the guitars or casually relating the stories contained within the lyrics. In the same way that Natalie Merchant did early in her career, Filla is able to achieve a lot with a little. Her vocalizations are never overly showy; they match every song's specific requirements. She's the universal voice of that ever-appealing smart woman, and when she sings, you listen.

There's a lot here: 14 songs in all that distinguish themselves over time (at first listen, several of the songs may sound similar, but repeated listens will prove otherwise). It's hard to pick a single favorite here, as there are many moods and flavors to choose from. From the pretty guitar intro notes on the first track, "Dome of the Sky", to the more acoustically folk-like somber feel of the closer, "Hours and Miles", this is quite the musical collection.

"Oregon Lanes" vies strongly for single consideration, an upbeat examination of bowling and the happier side of modern relationships: "The many happy returns / The ache of regret, the plan abandoned / When I think no one connects / You prove me wrong over and over / Near as we can be to not quite / Every little thing is alright".

"Town and Country" focuses on the tiny details that may hold meaning in our lives, the changes wrought by age ("All the stuff I own is breaking down") and the familiar "leap of folly" of focusing on nostalgia and dreams of relationships that never were.

Easily the most infectious melody here (sounding like something simple and Cajun) is that of "Le Fleur de Lys". The lyrics cleverly explore one whose supernova has burned out long ago and the ensuing aftermath: "Ah, you used to tread so cool / Back then no one could touch you / Light years out of school / Now you're down on yourself and walking on eggshells / Your velveteen braveheart will fill up your dance card / With lessons in how to be lonely / You're mending defenses with anti-depressants / You've got yourself a Maginot Line".

"Green Light Cascade" is a slow-building epic that achieves grandeur in its eloquent discussion of dalliance, obsession and love. More intriguing delving into aspects of love are to be found in "But That Don't Make It Right". Chalfen has an admirably witty and indirect way of touching upon deep matters and emotions in lyrics. Yet his music is also strong. Give a listen or three to "Chesterman", his masterful instrumental number here and I bet you'll have it inside your head long after.

Produced by Adam Lasus (Madder Rose, Versus, Clem Snide), there's a clean, simple acoustic feel to the music. "Singing Telegram" is a beautiful piece of folk-rock, musically as dreamy as the lyrics that ponder, "dreaming of a new day to come".

Ken Buono does a nice job with the stutter syncopations of "Goodnight Heat Lightning", while Bret Tobias does equally well with the drums in "One Day". "Outerbourough Getaway" addresses those who manage to escape the city for the summer, even temporarily, and features Chalfen sharing harmony vocals with Filla. "Air Companion", one of the later tracks on the album, is also a favorite. Again, here is the questioner of love, patiently asking questions while impatiently reaching conclusions about that elusive state: "Walking around on endorphins / The sweet reverie of my old friends / And then they go, and then you go / Back to the drag / Are you in love? / Well how do you know that? / Are you in love with a trick of the light?".

Almost three years in the making (without any record label or touring pressures), Chalfen, Filla, and friends have created a quality recording that manages to be both relaxed and focused all at once. Leap of Folly is a lovely throwback that also manages to sound original and new, a special reflective musical treat that sneaks up on you and quietly wins your heart.

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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