Music

Tess Wiley: Rainy Day Assembly

Chuck Hicks

Tess Wiley

Rainy Day Assembly

Label: Effanel Music
US Release Date: 2001-09-28
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Tess Wiley began her music career in earnest seven years ago as a member of Sixpence None the Richer. Not to be confused with tow-headed lead singer Leigh Nash, Wiley was the brainy brunette who contributed voice, guitar and writing to This Beautiful Mess and Tickets to a Prayer Wheel. By the time Sixpence had scored a major hit with the ubiquitous "Kiss Me", Wiley was long gone, making hit-and-miss recordings with alt-rock Phantasmic and lending her unique vocal talents to Velour 100's magnificent 1997 album Of Color Bright. She married photographer Christian Roth and resettled in his native Germany, making a few indie recordings under the heading "Tess Wiley and Her Orchestra". But for the past couple of years it appeared that her somewhat subterranean career was on hold.

The appearance of Rainy Day Assembly is a muted epiphany. Like a messianic prophet of antiquity, Tess Wiley delivers a life-shaping message without formal sanction. It is hard to imagine an artist of Wiley's ability and, yes, good looks working without major label backing. Perhaps this was calculated; the cover art features a waist-down shot of Wiley, her face and hands (forensic identifying parts) hidden from view. If the point was to allow the music to stand on its own merit, she has succeeded convincingly. The question is whether the word will get out to a larger audience.

Listening to Rainy Day Assembly is like watching a world-class gymnast perform on the balance beam -- 30 years ago. Instead of one death-defying trick after another, there is deliberate but poised execution, graceful movements given full extension and amplitude. There was no need for Wiley to take risks with this album. Her talent has matured to level where her writing and singing can carry the day without resorting to novelties. Her cabernet voice is vaguely reminiscent of Dusty Springfield, only brighter. The production quality is delicate and flawless despite the disc having been recorded in the back of Effanel's mobile trailer. What emerges is a transfigured Tess Wiley with an album that is simply too good to be classified as alt-pop, and maybe a little too intelligent for the mainstream.

Tess Wiley's gift is her ability to express internal and relational misgivings while maintaining a subtle degree of artistic detachment. Her heart is an open book here, but her delivery doesn't distract or come across as morose. On the breezy title track Wiley writes, "you sit there while I speak / just staring at the floor / this rainy day assembly / is going nowhere in this forum of usual apathy." But the music evokes cloud-gazing, sparing the listener any immediate sense of heaviness. On the gorgeous "Breathe", Wiley displays child-like vulnerability, her heart-melting voice singing, "be with me, breathe with me / I'm turning blue until I can be with you." The song probably reflects her separation from Roth during recording sessions in New York, but knowing Wiley's background it might also express a spiritual longing. The catchy "Skinny Little Line" is laden with philosophical ambling: "I tried to teach me dull perfection / I hope I never learn." It unveils an artist who is accessible but more affecting than one realizes at first glance. It's like pondering the heart-musings of a mere friend, then finding oneself falling unexpectedly in love days later.

Great albums have a watershed moment, a redefining pinnacle. On Rainy Day Assembly that point is reached with "Untitled", a tortured account of grappling with a lover's past relationship. In a microcosm of the whole album, Wiley bounds back and forth between calm acceptance and boiling anxiety: "I trust you better than I know you / how unaware am I? . . . if you've ever had a good day with her / I don't want to know / spend all your talking on me / how do I excite you? / I know I expect too much." As one who has been on the receiving end of such anguished thinking aloud, I can assure the reader this is compelling as well as maddening. From soft, disperse piano notes, the song builds along a simple two-chord structure that ratchets up the tension with each verse, adding strings and power guitar chords along the way. As the six-minute track erupts in its major key finale, Wiley offers her most impassioned vocals, and the song dies back into disparate piano fragments. "Untitled" is a high-impact song, a weighty piece of "Stairway to Heaven" proportion, where Tess Wiley truly finds her voice.

Which is why her dismount from this set, the heavily techno "Out of My Head", seems almost ungainly by comparison (the lyric contains the ironic assertion to "step lightly"). Notwithstanding, Rainy Day Assembly is a beautiful a reintroduction to a known yet unknown artist. The disc can be ordered from Tess Wiley's web site (www.wileyrock.de), affording the chance to savor her talent before the record companies realize what they've been missing.

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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