Music

Armand van Helden: Nympho

Tim O'Neil

Both rock and house are very loud. An effective hybrid doesn't call for compromise; it requires nothing less than full on war. Subtlety need not apply.


Armand Van Helden

Nympho

Label: Ultra
US Release Date: 2005-09-06
UK Release Date: 2005-07-04
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Armand van Helden is one of the most frustrating individuals in modern dance. How else to describe someone who enjoys such a gleeful disdain for conventional expectations? His entire career has been built on obfuscation and surprise. Invariably, not everyone gets the joke.

Who else could follow up an album like 2000's near-perfect Killing Puritans with a jokey throw-away like 2001's Ghandi Khan? Van Helden has never shied away from courting the displeasure of his fanbase. The new one will probably prove just as divisive as any of his earlier albums: Nympho is a rock album. Which is not to say that it isn't also a house record -- but anyone who heard last year's New York: A Mix Odyssey (and if you didn't, why the hell not?) will understand that van Helden wants to rock. But it's probably necessary to warn you that he also regards the White Stripes as a house band, so his notions of generic boundaries are probably somewhat sketchy...

All of which matters not at all. Of course, there will be purists who want nothing more than another disc of straight New York garage anthems and "Professional Widow" redubs. Of course, there will be those who question the very idea of combining electric guitars with house beats. But those who lack the ability to comprehend just why Nympho kicks so much ass do not deserve our understanding, or even our pity. They'll be standing outside the club in the pouring rain while the rest of us are having the time of our lives.

The two tracks which premiered on New York: A Mix Odyssey compose the hard-core of the album. If you've heard "Hear My Name" and "My My My" then you know what to expect: the same razor-sharp, pummeling garage beats that van Helden has always specialized in welded to the absolute finest in rock & roll pyrotechnics. So many producers have stumbled over the notion of combining rock with dance that it's almost funny, but van Helden understands almost intuitively how the two genres can fit together. I'll give you a hint: subtlety need not apply. Both rock and house are very loud. An effective hybrid doesn't call for compromise; it requires nothing less than full on war.

Appropriately enough, the album starts with a scream. The title track (one of many to feature vocals by van Helden himself, under the singularly evocative pseudonym "Virgin Killer") is, as you might expect, about sex. How shocking! Mr. Killer struts and scowls like Mick Jagger circa 1975 (only slightly a cartoon character), while the screaming guitars and jackhammer beats reinforce the notion that this album intends to take no prisoners. The beat doesn't let up for over an hour. Did I mention there's some cowbell? Lots of cowbell, actually.

"Come Play With Me" features Crème Blush waxing sexy over a slinky bassline. "Sugar" ups the ante on basically the same trick, featuring Jessy Moss vamping it up over a track that practically slithers out of the speakers. Spaulding Rockwell proved they could be rapturously defiant on "Hear My Name", and they show up again on "Jenny", a slightly less rambunctious number that still manages to appear both menacing and sensual in equal measures.

"Into Your Eyes" and "When the Lights Go Down", meanwhile, replicate the feel of "My My My", using a forgotten rock hook to create an invincible monster of a tune. Of course, if you have problems with the slightly repetitious nature of certain kinds of house music, you might not take to the format so easily. But while house is about repetition, it's also about modulation and intensity. More than almost any other producer around, Van Helden is a master at taking what might seem like a limited format and turning it into something majestic and powerful. Sex can be repetitive, too, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun.

But Nympho won't leave you lying alone in bed after having gathered its clothes and crept away at the first signs of dawn. I could probably complain about a few things -- such as the fact that "Hear My Name" and "My My My" appear in truncated form; or that "The Tear Drop", featuring the odd metaphysical narration of Tim Holton over a repeated bar-band lick, is an odd note on which to end the album -- but I'd basically be picking nits. This is a fierce, frighteningly good album that could easily be the best dance album of the year. It's one of those rare albums that sounds like nothing so much as a compilation of hit singles, a parade of irresistible hooks and merciless rhythms. If Nympho fails to conquer the universe, maybe we need a new universe.

8

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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