Reviews

Various Artists: Red Hot + Blue [DVD]

Adam Besenyodi

Conceived as a multimedia AIDS awareness package, the re-release of this 15 year-old project succeeds when the message doesn't overpower the inherent strength and subtlety of Cole Porter's songs.


Various Artists

Red Hot + Blue [DVD]

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2006-04-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The notion of using popular culture to educate and increase social awareness wasn't a new idea at the end of the '80s, but what the Red Hot Foundation attempted with its first and best endeavor is stunningly ambitious, if not completely successful. Using artists from every field and musical genre and the legendary songbook of Cole Porter, Red Hot founder John Carlin was able to wrest the national conscience at the decade's end from the lingering repressive influence of the Regan era. Conceived as a multimedia AIDS awareness package designed to bring together the artistic community, Carlin's project succeeds when the message doesn't overpower the inherent strength and subtlety of the songs.

Given the source material and the talent involved, the music more often than not stands on its own in this double-disc DVD/CD re-release of Red Hot + Blue. The presentation of the music and videos in its original broadcast TV format translates to a curious DVD time capsule, including a collection of intros and comments provided by some of the artists and celebrities involved in the project. While representative of the time, the ham-fisted approach of shock-value preaching is what negatively dates the package. On the whole, however, the music videos themselves are often as rewarding as the songs.

The DVD opens with the best song and video of the entire disc, the David Byrne sung and directed "Don't Fence Me In". The first artist to sign on to the project back in 1989, Byrne fuses African percussion and country fiddle for a lively, vital interpretation, fully complemented by the black and white images of faces cycling across the screen. As each face lip-syncs a word from the song, they begin to melt together -- not in a literal, Godley and Creme "Cry" sort of way, but in the sense that the common features among all of us become more and more obvious. The subtle message that we are more alike than different regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation is beautifully articulated without a sermon.

Another early high point is former Bronski Beat and Communards front man Jimmy Somerville's gorgeous falsetto mixed with dance beats on "From this Moment On". Director Steve McLean's images of Somerville mixed with images of shirtless men engaged in various choreographed embraces run counter to the almost playful music, resulting in a simultaneously unsettling yet engaging presentation.

Directors Adelle Lutz and Sandy McLeod turn Erasure's reading of "Too Darn Hot" into the preachiest music video of the collection. Andy Bell delivers his lines from behind a news desk while Vince Clarke fills the man-on-the-street role, and throughout the song messages, statistics, and facts about AIDS are flashed and crawl across the screen. If you can look past the heavy-handed visual pollution, there is a great song underneath.

Neneh Cherry's "I've Got U Under My Skin" is a less refined, less subtle, and ultimately less effective "Sign 'O' the Times". Salif Keita's "Begin the Beguine" is more engaging in the context of the larger video presentation than it is standing alone on CD, due in large part to the visual beauty of Les Ballets Africans. The montage of squirt guns shooting milky white liquid, rubber-gloved hands smeared with chocolate sauce, and images of guns between faceless lips destroys any hope the Jungle Brothers' already horribly dated sounding version of "I Get a Kick Out of You" has at the outset.

There are two obvious parings of artist and director here: Tom Waits with Jim Jarmusch for "It's All Right with Me", and U2 with Wim Wenders for "Night and Day". The Waits/Jarmusch results -- black-and-white shots of Waits performing in his gravelly croak while dancing for Jarmush's blurred, stuttering images -- are successful in spite of themselves. "Night and Day", on the other hand, finds Wenders at his most uninspired. The song itself is a highlight of the compilation -- with its opening churning guitars and swirling Bono emotion, it might be the perfect U2 cover song. Unfortunately, the director and U2 have been together so long they are cliché, and it's hard to remember a time when their collaboration was still fresh.

The Neville Brothers ("In the Still of the Night", directed by Jonathan Demme), Les Negresses Vertes ("I Love Paris"), Debbie Harry & Iggy Pop ("Well, Did You Evah!"), and Kirsty MacColl & the Pogues ("Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things", directed by Neil Jordan) all turn in some of the most clever and entertaining interpretations. The worst song and video of the entire collection is Aztec Camera's uninspired blue-eyed soul rendition of "Do I Love You?". For the equally uninspiring video, lead singer Roddy Frame appears to be on the leftovers of Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" video set.

There are five straight-ahead, traditional readings. Of them, only Jody Watley's "After You, Who?" truly fails on all fronts by adding nothing to the arrangement and turning in a predictable period piece video. The other four succeed in different ways. On the surface, Sinead O'Connor's "You Do Something to Me" might appear similar to Watley's approach and video, but O'Connor's breathy vocals deliver the goods, and the black and white video is just slightly off-kilter enough (notice the backdrop she's singing in front of) to make it interesting: Coed, mixed race, and same sex partygoers revel and dance while a platinum-wigged O'Connor croons. Seriously. It's perfect.

Hearing kd lang's delivery of lines like "I'm yours till I die / So in love with you am I" among visuals of her doing laundry while bathed in very specific lighting and intercut with shots of an IV drip results in a painfully emotional and powerful, yet simple, video for "So in Love". Lisa Stansfield prefers a non-period, staged performance piece. Her strong vocals (and adorable cuteness) carry "Down in the Depths" up to respectable heights. Lennox closes both the DVD and re-released CD with "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye". The song makes good use of Lennox's vocals, piano, accordion, and bass, but it's the white space of the song that amplifies its impact and fittingly reappropriates it for the cause at hand. The video, a combination of home movies and Lennox in front of the movie screen bathed in white light, is a heartbreakingly beautiful ending to the collection.

Missing in video format is the Thompson Twins dated but appealing "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" It does, however, provide background for the DVD's main menu, as well as accompanying the opening credits of the original TV broadcast. Not missing in any sense is the Fine Young Cannibals' bizarre take on "Love for Sale"; however, you'll still have to hit the skip button on your CD player because it's on the re-release.

Unfortunately, Shout! Factory lets down both the material and the consumer with the overall package. The only bonus included is Lennox's 1995 VH1 Honors performance of "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" accompanied by Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. Numerous artists performed the tracks they contributed to the various Red Hot projects on that night, why not include all of them? The original aspect ratio is preserved here making the 4:3 full screen appropriate, but the picture quality and 2.0 stereo audio is embarrassing considering the profile of both the original project and the talent involved. The compilation is poorly tracked, and, perhaps most inexplicably, the end credits cut off abruptly after providing details for only the first eight videos.

Including the CD is, however, a nice touch. Although the label claims the CD has been remastered, I could not find any differences between the version included here and my original version from '90. Apart from the puzzling and ever-changing track order (the original release, CD re-release, and DVD are all different), it appears to be the same release from a quality stand-point.

While not wanting to overstate the significance of Porter's own sexual orientation, it's hard to ignore the similarities between both his situation as a homosexual in a society that forced him into the closet during the heady '20s and the shunned gay community when AIDS first reared its head during the excess of the '80s. The subtext of the song selection when refracted through the prisms of these artists shed new light on the subversive genius of Porter's songwriting and AIDS awareness when Red Hot + Blue was originally released, and it is unfortunately still very relevant 15 years later.


David Byrne - Don't Fence Me In (Red Hot + Blue)

RATING:

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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