TV

True Blood

The goofy vampire romance in True Blood is granted another perspective by Tara (Rutina Wesley), who at least seems aware of life outside of Bon Temps, Louisiana.


True Blood

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Michael Raymond-James
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: HBO
US release date: 2008-09-07
Website
Trailer
Amazon
You know they can hypnotize you.

-- Tara (Rutina Wesley)

Bill Maher thinks vampires may be overstepping by demanding "basic civil rights just like everyone else." He asks his guest on Real Time, a representative for the American Vampire League, "Doesn't your race have a sordid history of exploiting and feeding off innocent people for centuries?" But Nan (Jessica Tuck) has heard this before. After pointing out the lack of "documentation" on such offenses, she notes that exploitation and abuse are hardly unique to vampires, citing slavery and Hiroshima. She completes the case with a zinger: now that the Japanese have invented a profitable way to satisfy vampires' nutritional needs, mortals can rest easy. "I can assure you," she smiles, "that every one of our community is now drinking synthetic blood."

It's a clever start for True Blood, this play on truth, blood, and the calculations of exploitation politics. Running on a background TV, the spot lays out succinctly the series' text and context: vampires, like the X-Men before them, are now victims of prejudice and fear (Or, you might argue, they're like those Republicans who have sucked dry the U.S. economic infrastructure, and seek now to claim victimization and another chance to suck some more.) Campaigning for passage of the Vampires' Rights Act, they're good-looking, cynical, adept hucksters.

Inside this broadly drawn national framework lies a local one, partly peculiar and partly generic. The primary vampire in True Blood, Bill (Stephen Moyer), has just moved to his descendents' big front-porched estate in Bon Temps, Louisiana, as they've left no living heirs. Turned in 1865, when he was 30, he retains grim memories of The War, as well as a poetic antipathy toward the general practice ("There is nothing glorious about dying in a war," he murmurs, "A bunch a starving, freezing boys killing each other so that rich people can stay rich: madness"). Bill's a mournful sort, per Anne Rice, his face gray and haggard, his voice papery. Yet he's hardly the most eccentric figure in this Southern Gothic milieu, full of Spanish moss, bloody roadkill, and puny humans who think they're smarter than their uncanny adversaries. Though Bill wants to fit in, he hasn't yet mastered the pass like a fellow bloodsucker, glimpsed in his hunting cap as he shops for his Tru Blood in six-packs down at the Grabbit-Qwik.

Such details underscore the series' essentially mordant sensibility. Based on Charlaine Harris' murder investigation novels, True Blood follows the model of creator Alan Ball's Six Feet Under, trucking between life and afterlife, humor and tragedy, fantasy and sensual experience. While the last is embodied most explicitly by pretty boy and "complete horn-dog" Jason (Ryan Kwanten), his sister supplies an intellectual-moral perspective. Wide-faced and wise, Sookie (Anna Paquin) is a waitress -- and eventually, a detective. With her, Bill is both out of time ("May I call on you?") and eternally clueless ("You just shut your nasty mouth mister," she scolds when he mentions an artery near her groin he'd like to see. "You might be a vampire, but when you talk to me, you talk to me like the lady that I am"). The first couple of episodes sets them up in a too-familiar romance, their attraction mutual and intense, but also bound-to-be-hard. Liked Angel and Buffy, he's devastated by experience, she's gifted beyond her years.

Sookie's gift grants another angle on True Blood's thematic interest in truth. Though, she notes dismissively, she was diagnosed with ADD, she is apparently telepathic, able to hear every thought of every person who comes within earshot; this makes for quite the soundtrack cacophony as she carries her tray among tables at work. The condition makes her vaguely wise, somewhat traumatized, and too stereotypically sad about a dead mother who tried to protect her (and who died when Sookie was just eight, but appears in flashback). It also makes her entranced by her first vampire acquaintance, Bill, whose thoughts she can't hear: "You have no idea how peaceful it is," she smiles, "After a lifetime of blah, blah, blah."

Bill knows her gift is not incidental to his own plot: "You're something more than human," he says more than once. You know this too, because she's followed about by a seeming familiar, a local dog who shows up whenever she faces an imminent crisis. You also know this because her romance with Bill is jumpstarted by some back-and-forth life-saving, both gory incidents involving an exceptionally red-necky husband-and-wife team, tediously deserving of all abuse eventually heaped on them. Their connection is sealed when he revives her with a dose of his blood, which leads to her own "keener senses." No one, and I mean no one, but Paquin could have pulled off the scene in which Sookie describes the newly "complex" taste of her grandmother's sausage: "It's like I can close my eyes and see the farm the pig lived on and feel the sun and the rain on my face, and taste the earth that the herbs grew out of!" Thankfully, the cut to Gran (Lois Smith) suggests that she too is appalled by this ridiculous reverie.

The romance is granted another perspective by Tara (Rutina Wesley, excellent here as she was in the Canadian indie How She Move). Despite her lifelong crush on the idiot Jason, Tara looks like a standard Black Best Friend, by definition skeptical of the vampire boyfriend. (Tara also brings with her an equally sharp, if also formulaic, gay cousin, Lafayette [Nelsan Ellis].) Though Sookie -- so moral! -- chalks Tara's resistance up to prejudice, the best friend sounds awfully reasonable commenting on the trite romance unfolding before all our eyes.

Aside from the fact that she's refreshingly aware of a world beyond Bon Temps (putting off a party flirt, she describes her non-existent threat of a husband as a mercenary with Blackwater, "just back from assassinating some guys in Iraq"), Tara is as incisive as Sookie is ethereal. She does her job -- providing the show with a sense of Southern history that includes slavery and brutality -- but she also brings Wit. When Tara and Sookie speak truth to each other (or seem to), True Blood is almost shrewd.

6

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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