Music

Various Artists: Putumayo Presents Mali

David Marchese

Almost every track feels like a signpost pointing me in a direction I'd like to travel, but then the song ends and I must keep moving. It is a bewildering experience.


Various Artists

Putumayo Presents Mali

Label: Putumayo
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-05-09
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There are many problems that arise when trying to review an album such as Putamayo Presents Mali. The first problem, and the most obvious, is that I don't speak, or even recognize when I'm hearing, Arabic, Bambara, or any of the other languages these songs may be sung in. My linguistic shortcomings alone ensure that my opinion of the music is going to be informed by a certain amount of emotional guesswork. If a song sounds sad, I can only assume it's sad. No irony, no lyrical humour, no puns. For better or worse, the response to the music is going to be far more emotional than analytical.

The conceptual basis of an album like this is also problematic. Pretending that an accurate musical representation of a country can come from eleven songs seems at best reductive, at worst maddeningly frustrating. Mali is a musically and culturally diverse nation. Almost every track feels like a signpost pointing me in a direction I'd like to travel, but then the song ends and I must keep moving. It is a bewildering experience. The driving Berber blues of Tinariwen seem completely removed from the polished disco funk of Issa Bagayogo, which itself seems a country apart from the trippy Youssou vibe of Tom Diakité. When the unifying factor of a sampler album like this is diversity, there are so many questions left unanswered and so many avenues left unexplored that the effect is something like having a meal that consists only of appetizers.

Perhaps it's foolish of me to expect anything other than a simplistic treatment from the folks at Putamayo. Whoever came up with the slogan printed on the back cover of the album deserves a raise because the words do a perfect job of capturing the essence of Putamayo's musical mission. "Putamayo World Music -- Guaranteed to make you feel good." This company's not interested in elucidating cultural connections or playing the role of intelligent archivist. Nope, all they want to do is make you feel good. A soundtrack to unencumbered dinner party hedonism.

Feeling good is something that's easily accomplished when listening to the music on this disc as there's not a weak track. Pleasure is afforded the listener in a myriad of ways: whether it's the faint reggae lilt of Ramatou Diakité's "Gembi" or the beguiling mixture of ancient and modern musical technologies on Mamou Sidibé's "Bassa Kele". Unfortunately, my own naiveté tempers some of the joy I get solely from listening. My inability to respond to the music on little more than an immediate sensory level leaves me feeling like a large piece of the puzzle is missing; which it undoubtedly is. That the promotional material accompanying my copy of the album mentioned that Tinariwen's contribution, "Amassakoul 'N' Ténéré", "served as the musical soundtrack to a fierce fight against discrimination" caused me to feel slightly sheepish after I had already listened to the track five times and determined its hypnotic guitars to be the chief feature. What I thought was candy had turned out to be meat.

Imagine if the cultural positions were reversed. What if, in a far-off country, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were packaged just as feel-good exemplars of "indigenous" American music? The funky rhythms and stridently beautiful singing would still register, but the social raison d'etre of such incisive music would be largely obscured. Both my own inadequacies as a cultural commentator and Putamayo's Disney-fied presentation have likely robbed this music of a source of its power. It's not as if we must all be ethnomusicologists to enjoy foreign music, but the way that I, and I suspect most affluent westerners, listen to this kind of music makes it nearly impossible to distinguish a booty call from a call to arms.

To be fair, Putamayo will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the album to Oxfam America's relief efforts in Mali, but I do wish that rather than include recipes for meat in peanut sauce, Putamayo made some effort to educate the listeners about the context and meaning of this wonderful music and therefore lessen any inclinations we may feel to treat Malian musicians as mere trendy exotica.

7

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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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