Music

The Vines: Highly Evolved

Jon Garrett

The Vines

Highly Evolved

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2002-07-16
UK Release Date: 2002-07-08
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Highly Evolved is everything a debut album from a great band should be: far from perfect but never a wasted mistake. Like many bands on their first official full-length, The Vines are sorely lacking in originality. The best moments all faintly echo the ghosts of other bands. But unlike say, Puddle of Mudd, or countless other grunge clones cluttering the radio today, The Vines don't come off as content to play the tribute band. Rather, I get the feeling that The Vines are trying to convert their obvious influences into something wholly unique -- even if they're still in that awkward middle phase of puberty.

It's true what you may have read about the Vines in the fawning British publications. Yes, they do sound a bit like Nirvana. Frontman Craig Nichols rumbling cadence often eerily mimics Cobain's, especially on fast-paced rockers like "Highly Evolved" and "Get Free". And they quite frequently tip their collective hat to the Beatles with their simple yet melodic constructions. But perhaps more than anything else, I hear a distinct fascination with Supergrass, untold nights in the bedroom strumming along to "Late in the Day" off of In It for the Money. Of course, none of these influences are bad; in fact, they're all uniformly great. The problem, of course, is that if you tread to closely to these recognized and revered paradigms, you're almost assured of dashing the audience's heightened expectations.

The Vines biggest problem at this stage is one that plagues many good young bands: they know how classic records are supposed to sound, but they have absolutely no idea what a classic record from The Vines should sound like. Highly Evolved is a strange mix of songs that, while varied, doesn't boast much personality of its own. The title track and opener is a pleasant blast of Nevermind-era Nirvana. "Autumn Shade" is trademark Coombes & Co. circa In It For the Money. And "1969" is a distorted sound collage that wouldn't be out of place on the back end of Swervedriver's 99th Dream. But despite all the impressive reference points, Highly Evolved never reveals what The Vines are all about. It's as though the group isn't quite confident enough to lend its own voice to the proceedings.

As far as the rest of the mistakes go, the production on the first single, "Get Free", easily ranks up there as one of the most egregious. Andy Wallace may have been a good choice to mix their debut single in order to get commercial airplay, but the song winds up sounding like pea soup. (Wallace is best known for his mixing work on Nirvana's Nevermind. Surprise, surprise.) It might as well be the work of any other guitar band buzzing away on the local alternative radio dial. Wallace and his disciples have mixed so many tracks in this overly-processed manner, it's no wonder so many of the songs on rock radio are interchangeable. To hear how "Get Free" should have sounded, I recommend logging onto Audiogalaxy (or whatever file-sharing service is currently in working order) and downloading the two-minute and two-second version of the song recorded for The Cornerstone Player Volume. There's simply no comparison. There are also a couple of missteps on the lyrical front. Particularly cringe-worthy is the opening of "Country Yard", which begins with the line "I'm tired of feeling sick and useless" before it settles down into its mid-tempo groove.

Despite the aforementioned issues, Highly Evolved still comes out well ahead. The leisurely, lilting melodies of "Mary Jane" and "Homesick" are pure summertime ecstasy while taut rockers like "Sunshinin" and "Ain't No Room" prove that The Vines are perfectly capable of turning up the volume without compromising their songwriting skills. And even though there are a few dry spells, you never get the sense that The Vines are resting on their laurels or that they're short on talent. Highly Evolved rarely stays down for long.

Of course, this review would hardly be complete without mention of The Strokes, to whom this Aussie foursome is often compared. (The NME dubbed them "The Australian Strokes" earlier this year.) Although their sound has very little in common with the pulsating punk-pop of the NYC upstarts, they definitely share a common aesthetic -- the vintage clothing, the magnetic frontman. But if Highly Evolved is any indication, The Vines may very well eclipse The Strokes in the long run. Is This It was certainly flawless for what it was, but the album didn't exactly pave the way to the future. If anything, Is This It was a dead end. The Strokes seem doomed to a career of repetition and diminishing returns. (The new songs that they've unveiled at recent gigs have only confirmed my suspicion.) The Vines, on the other hand, have left themselves plenty of creative possibilities with Highly Evolved and made enough headway to ensure that the album is a modestly successful venture on its own terms. Highly evolved is perhaps a premature declaration, but it's at least within their reach. As of right now, The Vines are an excellent, young band in search of a great album.

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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