X = Why? Annette Peacock's 'X-Dreams'

In 1978, legendary music artist Annette Peacock released X-Dreams, a phantasmagorical exercise in harnessing the slipstreams of dreamed noises.

Glean a Little Dream...

When Annette Peacock emerged from seemingly out of nowhere in 1972, her most prescient statement in sound was captured in the startling, mesmeric conception of I’m the One. An impressive document of nearly impossible desires and arcane sound, I’m the One is an emotional eclipse, a passionate red mess that bleeds with drama, both animal and human. It wasn’t her first album, however. An early recording, entitled Revenge, made a few in the industry nervous with its long stretches of sonic experiment and the resulting label issues ensured that the album had a rocky release. It is thus often believed that I’m the One is Peacock’s formal introduction to the world, and it may as well be.

It’s just as well that I’m the One would find itself into the public’s consciousness as the embodiment of what Peacock’s sound is about. The album’s boldly sensual strut traced a mean line through an electrical storm of complicated desires; it was the anxious answer to the unasked question of the female drive – a referential point of which women of the ‘70s discovered ideas about artistic mobility.

Peacock would struggle to gain status beyond a cult symbol of female empowerment, despite the clear fact that her music spoke directly to those who were exploring modes of communication in new ways that looked to the future; her work embraced and encompassed both men and women. I’m the One came and went, leaving an indelible impression on some of the most forward-thinking artists in the music industry (David Bowie, in particular) before submerging into the depths of obscurity.

So when Peacock resurfaced in 1978 with X-Dreams, her statement in both music and female-centric narratives arrived as a gentle reminder of what came before in her work. X-Dreams was in no way a second chapter of what she had articulated on I’m the One. It was the energy of the times projected into a reality far ahead of the present possibilities – the collective sentiments which seemed to emanate from a realm beyond corporeal existence. As the album title suggests, X-Dreams depicts the endless streams of language found in dreams, a transient moment that has been frozen by the coiled magic of Peacock’s words and her uncanny ability to capture image in sound. Overall, it's a phantasmagorical exercise in harnessing the slipstreams of dreamed noises.

A vast aural terrain of confused desires and heartbreak not readily articulated by the vernacular language, X-Dreams explores the points of transitions in a young woman leaving the world of her youth behind. Nothing personifies more the turbulent emotions of pain, excitement, anxiety and longing than the opening number “My Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook”, written about Peacock’s relationship with her mother and its rippling effects on the men in her life.

A curiously astute observing of maternal impositions, Peacock’s swampy groove executes a steady walk across a poem of restless self-determination. Here, the struggles between women who battle conflicting ideologies created in the rift between generations are realized with poignancy and humour: “My mama never taught me how to cook/ but my brother taught me how to eat”, she saucily relates over the dirty slink of the sensuous funk. In the interplay between sax and guitar, there's the clear centered voice of a cosmic verse turning in on itself with the riddling questions of pride and despair.

Those cosmic forces found in the flowing diction of Peacock’s poetry blossom into the nebula of “Real and Defined Androgens”, a steady groove etched with the rough lines of electric guitar and the jazzy licks of piano. The blue-mood poem intoned over the brewing rhythms speaks of sexual ritual and behaviour. When the song’s second half closes out with the anxious circles of a saxophone drawn around various instrumental threads, a new language is signalled in to negotiate a certain space in semantics. In these interstices, all possibilities of love are referred. It's a brave, unflinching, nearly formless expression contained neatly within the contours of a carved and shapely poem; the substance of the language has no definition but it fills the blank verse like a waterlogged vessel.

Experienced through the vistas of “My Mama...” and “Real...”, one learns how codas and linguistic slips in Peacock’s work are indeed modules of musical dialect. Often abandoning the formatted structures of song verse, Peacock’s practice in poem-assemblage leads to a constant reformation of text; every narrative seems caught in a moment of revision, either on its way down toward a base of conceptual matter or on its way up toward its construction of design. Coordinated in practice yet wholly improvised, Peacock’s words are strung together in ways that suggest a dialogue in poem, discussions to be had in stanzas.

Even in the moments of convention, when the artist wishes to merely sing her worth of heartache, the airs of alien desire hang. “This Feel Within” promises a composition of pure drama rested within a block of immovable structure. Constructed like the cool, glass tank of an aquarium, we watch what we hear. That is to say we “see” the sounds float by; emotions, like animate matter, producing movements in an essence both liquid and human. Here, an aquatically-stretched vocal rides a slow wave of rhythm and all dreams are sent upwards from these depths.

When those dreams find a most ambiguous point of destination, it's in the vaporous airs of “Too Much in the Skies”. A chilled groove of soft, fresco-inspired blues-pop, the colours with which Peacock uses to paint a day full of marvels are simple but illuminating. By the song’s end, an image has come into focus: in the calm, quiet airs of a lonely afternoon, the notion of an improbable man has been made real – a dream personified in human flesh. In the submission of self and soul, the chemical jazz of a superlatively lush offering is boiled down to the waft of perfumed steam.

Such impressions of oneiric designs are transfused into Peacock’s silvery jazz-pop cover of Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, the album’s lone composition not written by the artist herself. The arrangements here render the tune completely unrecognizable; it may as well be an entirely different number altogether. Shrugging off her usual diffuse and dreamy poem-speak for the bold terrains of simple pop music, she turns Presley’s original into an artful exercise in reframing testosterone-driven rock ‘n' roll as something stridently cool and resolutely feminine.

Concluding the album with an equivocal statement of love, “Questions” hangs in the air with the suggestion (or hope) of closure. Circling around the restless angst of feelings not yet discarded in relationships now ended, Peacock sings of moments relived, of opportunities granted once again. The love has not ended and its accompanying feelings stretch over into the eternity of dreams. In these dreams, a woman searches the endless skies for some incomplete answer that points the way to an infinite love.

Just what are these skies? It’s the siren-call of the synths you hear overhead, providing the song its slow hiss of serene air. Or an untapped feeling, its image invoked and given shape by some theory or adjacent emotion. Perhaps it's some inhibited space in the heart and mind where all our dreams lie in wait.

From some unknown periphery comes a pressing query – a point of genesis from which all answers in the ether float...“Why?”

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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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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