Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year in Review | Electronic Highlights

Year in Review | Electronic Highlights

by Joshua P. Ferguson

We've gone a little list happy for this year's best of round-up. But we're having fun, so here's another one: The best moments in electronic music.

5) John Talabot "Matilda's Dream" - Permanent Vacation
Hypnotic and tribal, Talabot's "Matilda's Dream" sneaks up on you. As the drums pound and the kick thumps, a throwback acid bassline creeps in and builds to a crescendo with the help of these angelic chimes. It's pure Balearic gold. If you bring the sunset and posh European island, this song will take care of the rest.

4) Gyptian "Hold Yuh" (Major Lazer remix) - Ministry of Sound
I don't follow dancehall as closely as I'd like to, but I did discover this island anthem thanks to Major Lazer's mix. Combining a Robin S.-era house beat and Gyptian's pitch perfect reggae crooning, this is one of those cuts that you can play out almost anywhere. And 2010 heard a lot of it while I was in the DJ booth.

3) Chaim "Love Rehab" - BPitch Control
All the way from Israel, Chaim's "Love Rehab" is exactly the bubbling type of deep house that the Dialogue Inc. family loses its head over. Mellow but not boring, it swirls with hand claps, understated vocals from Meital De Razon and keys that twinkle so lightly, you'd think the synth was hot to the touch.

2) Lindstrøm and Christabelle Real Life is No Cool - Feedelity
Lindstrøm's 2008 album Where You Go I Go Too was three songs that all clocked in at over 10 minutes. They were groovy. But they weren't the subversive Italo pop of this year's Real Life is No Cool. A collaboration with vocalist Christabelle, it' sexy, dark and infinitely more accessible. Read our full review here: Dialogue Inc | Real Life is No Cool

1) Eleven Tigers Clouds are Mountains - Soul Motive
"What, then, happens after Burial?" David Stubbs asked in his review of Clouds are Mountains for the Quietus. "Not despair and disappearance, but a determined, affirmative nowness – not nothing, but everything." Stubbs points out that while Eleven Tigers would not exist without Burial's brilliant soundscapes, Lithuanian producer Jakubas Dargis builds out those barren soundscapes with clattering drums, distortion, plucked guitars, alien feedback and about a zillion other building blocks of sound. This is what the future of dubstep sounds like and the taste Dargis gives us on Clouds are Mountains has us thirsting for more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year in Review | Guilty Pleasures + Pop Gold

Year in Review | Guilty Pleasures and Pop Gold

by Joshua P. Ferguson

There are many paths you can take as a DJ. I've chosen to walk as many as possible, and some I'm traversing at the same time. Weekly I explore the far reaches of dance music for my day job. On Saturdays, I take over an indie bar, spinning everything from Arcade Fire to Yeasayer. And then there's Friday, where I cruise down to Chicago's posh River North neighborhood and play the entire spectrum of pop music for a bunch of people who make infinitely more money than I do. I've done this for more than two years now. As a result, I have every song that's landed in Billboard's Top 40 for pretty much this entire 24 month period. Some of these songs get stuck in your head. Here are the ones that I had the most fun with in 2010.

5) Pink "Raise Your Glass" - LaFace
I get the feeling I'll be tempted to say this repeatedly in this post but, for the record, I'm not the biggest Pink fan. I never have been. Sure "So What" got some traction in my sets, but it's "Raise Your Glass" that broke through and has me singing along from the booth and, yes, hitting repeat when it comes on my iPod. Her producer, Max Martin, the genius behind "California Gurls" and most of Ke$ha's hits, was behind the board on this one and that pretty much explains it all. The guy is responsible for innumerable Top 40 hits. And this one says instant dance party to me. Just in time for the new year, I won't be mad at raising my glass if this song comes on 'round midnight on December 31.

4) Neon Trees "Animal" - Mercury
I would never have discovered this song if I didn't surf the Top 40 charts on a weekly basis. In fact, Time Out Magazine, my employer, sponsored an intimate pre-Lollapalooza performance with Neon Trees, and I was oblivious to the whole thing. Then I heard "Animal" and morning after morning I found it stuck in my head. As with all the songs on this list, I think that's a deciding factor. How often did I end up pulling a song out of the ether and singing it in the shower? That many times? I guess it should make the list then. So here Neon Trees are. A cross between Phoenix's "1901" and Metro Station's "Shake It," "Animal" proved that Neon Trees was the rock act to crack into a world dominated by R 'n' B divas, pop songstresses and tattooed rappers in 2010.

3) Hood Internet "Cult Logic Forever" (Drake vs. Miike Snow) - white
I like to say that the Hood Internet is the only mash-up act out there worth fucking with. The duo of STV SLV and ABX has ended up on Dialogue's year-end round up the past three years, a feat no other artist has achieved. Last year, the two did a mix for our podcast and it stands to this day as the most popular thing Dialogue Inc has ever done. Well, the masters of the cut n' paste haven't slowed their output in 2010 and this one, that sees Drake's "Forever" paired with my favorite track from Miike Snow's album, "Cult Logic," was a staple in many a DJ set this year. Because of the indie twist to it, I've dropped it everywhere. Holiday events, indie dance parties, in da club. You name it. With Miike Snow providing a midtempo electro backdrop and turns at the mic from Drake, Yeezy and Weezy, you can't lose. Check my interview with Hood Internet's STV SLV here: Dialogue Inc | Hood Internet

2) R. Kelly "Be My #2" - Jive
Leave it to R. Kelly to write a song about having a mistress and telling her how special she is. Just not as special as his wife. "Though I love your sex, I can't, I can't, I can't leave her, no, no," he sings. Though that ass is incredible, the Windy City Pied Piper croons, she'll still just be his number two. While his audacity is enough to land on this list, "Be My #2" is also interesting because it has this amazing disco-boogie production from Jack Splash, the same guy that made waves all those years back as part of Plantlife. The Earth, Wind and Fire-style horn blasts and chugging dance beat make this song stand apart from the usual pop drivel. Combine that with R. Kelly's hilarious twist on a love song, and you've got pop gold.

1) Katy Perry "Teenage Dream" - EMI
If you're a regular follower of Dialogue Inc, you know that I have a weak spot for beautiful girls that can sing. I have a tendency to gush over She & Him, because the music is awesome, but also because I have a celebrity crush on Zooey Deschanel. So, seeing how Katy Perry is Deschanel's mega star celebrity look-a-like, I can't help but think she's hot too (duh). But for God knows what reason (probably because Max Martin is at the helm again) I also find her music addicting. Here I admit that, with the exception of the awful song "Peacock", I can listen to Teenage Dream from start to finish and not go crazy. In fact, there are four or five songs on there that I really like (and it's not just because Perry is floating naked on a cloud on the cover, I swear!). I got shit from readers for posting my pros and cons to Katy Perry and her video for "Teenage Dream" early this year (Dialogue Inc | Teenage Dream) but I stand by my opinion that Katy Perry (and the machine behind her) makes undeniable pop hits that are hard to hate on, and that "Teenage Dream" is the best pop song to come out this year. There, I said it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year in Review | Top DJ Mixes + Compilations

Year in Review | Top DJ Mixes + Compilations

by Joshua P. Ferguson

The compilation may seem like a cheap, throwaway release relegated to obscurity in the "V" bins of your local Best Buy, but it takes on a whole new level of importance in the DJ/electronic world, mostly because of the DJ mix. Some of the titles listed below were as great a listen as any artist album. In fact, I suspect for many DJs, the mix actually has greater traction on the iPod headphones than most full length does. In the Dialogue Inc. world, our No. 1 pick for 2010 certainly did. So, without further ado, our best DJ mixes and compilations of the year:

5) Various Ninja Tune XX - Ninja Tune
Since 1990 when DJs Matt Black and Jonathan More—a.k.a. Coldcut—founded Ninja Tune, the label has been at the forefront of dance music, especially the hip-hop, grime, bass music and sound-system cultures bubbling in the U.K. underground. This year—and this expansive release—marks 20 years under its belt. The massive collection pools together six CDs, six 7"s, a full-color biography of the label and loads of extras. Best part about it? Most of the material is new or unreleased. There are new gems from tongue-in-cheek beathead Mr. Scruff, the rap-happy Roots Manuva, Daedelus, Cinematic Orchestra, newbie Eskmo and even Coldcut themselves. With this release, Christmas came early for those who like their music on the bleeding edge. Read our praise for the label and this release here: Dialogue Inc | Ninja Tune XX

4) Plastikman Arkives - M_nus Records
Elastic, spare, haunting, deeply melodic and often ambient, Richie Hawtin's output as Plastikman presented a stark contrast to the rolling, thunderous drums-and-bass bombast of most techno coming out between '93 and '03, the years focused on for this thorough retrospective. Comprised of 11 CDs, six LPs or, for the completist, a combination of the two, each comes with oodles of extras and takes listeners deep into a golden era of the genre, when Hawtin was rewriting the rules of the music, and how people partied to it. You can catch my full review here—Dialogue Inc | Arkives Review—but this one is best when you're hitting play. 

3) DJ Hell Body Language Vol 9 - Get Physical Music
DJ Hell's contribution to Get Physical's Body Language mix CD series places him among some of the best house and techno minds currently—an elite club that includes Detroit techno mastermind Matthew Dear; the king of Germany’s deep house scene, Dixon; and the frontrunner of the fidget movement, Jesse Rose. And you can tell he’s comfortable here.  He tempers the steady stomping of techno drums and deep house synths with flirty come-ons, avant-garde classical covers of Kraftwerk and even the glittery ballad “Forbidden Colours” by former Japan frontman David Sylvian. Never before  has a DJ been so adept at impressing his personality on a mix. This could have only come from Mr. International DJ Gigolo himself. Read our full review here: Dialogue Inc | Body Language 9 Review

2) Friendly Fires Suck My Deck - BUGGEDOut!
"Listening to the mix for the first time today, I felt I had to continually remind myself it was a trio of rockers that compiled its contents and not a seasoned DJ—the selection and mix is that impeccable. I know these guys are heavily influenced by dance music and Aeroplane's remix of their cut "Paris" was one of last year's biggest anthems, but they've still outdone themselves. Spanning indie dance, nudisco, euphoric house, booty throwbacks and even "Din Da Da" by George Kranz, it's as epic a mix as I've heard in some time." Such was my praise in my review back in September and today this mix from three British indie kids still represents one of the freshest takes on house, techno and indie dance that I've heard all year.

 1) Apparat DJ-KiCKS - !K7 Records
Let's just say if we were into star ratings, Apparat's contribution to DJ-KiCKS would get the maximum amount: 5 stars, two thumbs up, a standing ovation, whichever unit of valuation suits your fancy best. Poised at the intersection of techno, dubstep, post-rock and generally leftfield dance music, it's the most forward thinking mix to grace our ears this year. It's techno, but it's more than that. It has echoing indie-rock guitar riffs, a gallop that sits seamlessly alongside the more avant forays into dubstep (Burial, Martyn and the like—both featured on the mix) and drum breakdowns that have more in common with some post-jazz, post-rock world than with the clubs. As far as dance music goes, it doesn't get more intellectual than this (before it spills over into a birds nest of clicks and hisses, that is). With a keen ear for emerging sounds, Apparat paints a bright future of organic techno beats, rolling pads, celestial melodies and minimal soundscapes. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Year in Review | Top Live Shows pt 2

 She & Him photo courtesy of Robert Loerzel |

Year in Review | Top Live Shows pt 2

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Our top live shows of 2010 round up continues with our fave rock shows.

5) She and Him @ Millennium Park Chicago
This show makes it onto the list as much for the music as for the surroundings, and the night itself. You wouldn't believe the number of people that made the alt-country pilgrimage to Chicago's Millennium Park to see Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward unless you were there. But judging from the thousands that made the trek that I did, there's a solid chance you were. If not, it was a beautiful summer evening, thousands of the city's hippest twenty-and-thirty-somethings gathered on the lawn, kids running around and spilling bottles of wine, couples close talking; it was pretty spectacular. And She and Him's music made for the perfect compliment.

Nouvelle Vague photo courtesy of Robert Loerzel |

4) Nouvelle Vague @ Lincoln Hall
This show was one of the first I attended at Chicago's Lincoln Hall. A gorgeous hall to see a band in, it's shiny, sounds good and is fantastically intimate. Which works out in a fan's favor when the beauties that Marc Collin and Olivier Labaux gather to front their band take the stage. There was a point when Brazilian chanteuse Karina Zeviani hopped off the stage and made her way out into the middle of the crowd. I think I was, oh, a foot away. Did I mention she's also a model? From my review at the time: "They clearly commanded the undivided attention of the crowd, especially the guys in attendance who whistled and hooted, calling out "legs for days" and "I'm in love" in response to [Helena] Noguerra's impossibly hot cover of "Fallen in Love." I think it was at that point that my friend Hillary turned to me and whispered that even she wanted to take one of the lead singers home with her." Oh, and the music was awesome too. 

Florence & the Machine photo courtesy of Kyle LaMere |

3) Florence and the Machine @ House of Blues
Reviewing the show for Time Out Chicago, I had this to say: "Florence and the Machine is definitely best witnessed first hand. Stepping onto the stage just after 8pm, she was dressed like Molly Ringwald circa Pretty in Pink, but gone fashionista: decked out in a full-brimmed hat, ballet flats and a long, lacey dress that gave the illusion of wings when she raised her hands and belted out her verses. And this girl can sing." If not for the technicality of her debut album coming out in 2009, I would have included her in my best of the year again this year. That's how much I love her band, how much I listened to it over the past 12 months and how much I loved this show.

2) Broken Social Scene @ the Riviera
The review: "Fighting an 11pm curfew—meaning the show had to be done by that time—Drew pushed the band on. The collective skipped an encore. But they tried. After a failed attempt to push everyone off stage, Drew returned to the mic exasperated. 'We’ll never make it in Vegas' he joked. Having a collective for a band surely equates to herding cats from time to time, but we weren’t watching and loving Broken Social Scene for feats of choreography. With chops like that and a love of Chicago that had it pulling out all the stops, who cares about theatrics, Broken Social Scene clearly came to deliver the jams." These guys played for more than two hours. It's a once in a lifetime thing to catch a band go beyond the motions, clearly at home, with family and enjoying every minute of every song. I was lucky enough to be there for this one. 

1) Arcade Fire @ Lollapalooza 2010
I have really come to appreciate Arcade Fire, but in the spirit of full disclosure, the band closed out a Lollapalooza weekend that also happened to be my 30th birthday weekend. So, this No. 1 rating has a bit of a personal bias to it. No matter, I'm sure I'm not alone in ranking this performance one of the best in Chicago this year. Here's how I summed it up in the days to follow: "Looking like a rock n' roll orchestra up on stage, Win Butler, his captivatingly talented wife Régine Chassagne and the rest of the crew greeted thousands with the fitting "Ready to Start." The background visuals, which began projecting serene postcard-worthy tropical images, seemed strangely appropriate as the band performed material from its new record, a decidedly more subdued turn from the grandiosity of Neon Bible." By the time the troupe got to set closer "Wake Up," my friends and I were arm-in-arm, jumping up and down and singing our brains out. This is a moment I'll remember until my end of days.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year in Review | Top Live Shows

Flying Lotus photo | Nick Schrunk

Year in Review | Top Live Shows

by Joshua P. Ferguson

What would a year of musical praise be without laying down our best moments spent sweating it out on a dance floor, screaming alongside 50,000 fans in Union Park or raving the day away in Detroit? Well, we did all that and then some this year. Between DEMF, Lollapalooza, North Coast Music Festival, Pitchfork and every other DJ and band we saw this year, we've been to more than 35 shows. Of them, here are our best.

Soundsystem Bring Me Up: Top Electronic Live Shows

5) Flying Lotus + Kode9 @ the Double Door Chicago
When it comes to having its finger on the pulse and pulling out all the stops for a show, no entity does it better than Red Bull. This year the energy drink behemoth sponsored stages at North Coast Music Festival, DEMF and the Chicago edition of Sonar. But it was its Red Bull Music Academy: On the Floor event with L.A.'s FlyLo and Hyperdub's Kode9 that takes the #5 slot this year. Of Flying Lotus' set, our review had this to say, "FlyLo isn't shy about his infatuation with the intense hallucinogen DMT, often talking in interviews and on his blog about his experiments in reaching a higher consciousness. His music, with its washes of atmospherics, jittery off-kilter rhythms and meditative tempos, is a clear extension of his mind-expanding endeavors."

4) Radio Slave DJ set @ Spy Bar Chicago
They say a picture can communicate a thousand words, but when it comes to Radio Slave's DJ set at Spy Bar back in March, we hope some of you readers out there got to witness it first hand. Stepping into the booth just past 2am, the auburn-haired Englishman took us on a musical journey encompassing the deepness of Detroit masters like Moodymann, the emotive techno of the Kompakt label stable and the signature house sounds that have made his Rekids label such a hit. Packing energy alongside understatement and putting the life into techno's often too cold soul, it is with the utmost confidence that we declare Matt Edwards' set one of the best of 2010.

Moritz Von Oswald Trio photo | Dave Walker

3) Moritz Von Oswald Trio @ DEMF
This performance at the tenth anniversary of Detroit's Electronic Music Festival was truly one of a kind. The group, which was joined by Motor City legend Carl Craig, makes epic atmospheric techno soundscapes, delved into one song after another, strung together as one long tapestry of sound. The melodies and rhythms grew and built as texture upon texture were added to one another, working up a hypnotizing groove that had everyone in the audience completely mesmerized. Unfortunately, a power chord gave out, cutting sound and setting back the performance’s momentum. But prior to that point, this was one of the most magical displays of electronic music we've ever seen. Read our full review of DEMF.

James Murphy photo |

2) LCD Soundsystem @ Metro Chicago
Though we lucked into seeing electronic music's best live band three times this year, it is the troupe's intimate set at Metro that rises to the top. Set back a mere ten feet from the stage, we couldn't help but pick up on every nuance of the performance. Our favorite (from our TOC review): "A telling moment that speaks volumes about Murphy's as an artist and studio whiz was when he nonchalantly walked back towards the bass player to readjust the instrument's tuning to compensate for an out of key synth. No one in the band missed a beat. If this is LCD's farewell tour, I hope Murphy's got something else planned so we can get more music that's as heady and entertaining as what we heard tonight."

1) The Chemical Brothers live @ North Coast Music Festival
This actually became a surreal experience for me, but even if it hadn't, this would still be the coolest electronic show I've ever seen. Shortly after being passed a smokey party favor, two girls from the crowd insisted that I be their dancing partner for the entirety of the show. I became the meat to their girlie sandwich and danced in that position for almost the entire length of show. Life has been worse... Escapades aside, here's an excerpt from my praise of the duo's show:  "As a haze of pot smoke wafted past me and the Chems set ratcheted up into hyper speed, I was stunned to nothing but a little grin and an overwhelming urge to get my hands up where everybody else already had theirs. With a massive visual backdrop that flashed bombs, bouncing (and exploding) paintballs, dancing silhouettes and god knows what else at us, [The Chems kept] all of our senses wrapped up in what is truly one of the best electronic music performances I have ever seen, and quite possibly will ever see."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Year in Review | Honorable Mentions

(My Tiger My Timing)

Year in Review 2010 | Honorable Mentions

by Joshua P. Ferguson

It's that time of year again, when music obsessives like myself pore over the last 12 months of iTunes additions, parcel them out into categories and rank them and praise the champions. This year saw stellar releases from the relatively unknown, commanding voices from the far reaches of the musical universe. It also saw amazing output from Grammy nominees, headline stealers and everyone in between. Over the course of the next few days, Dialogue Inc. will present its musical winners for the year. We'll cover artists, albums, live shows, DJ mixes, singles, guilty pleasures and more. But first, we start with artists who undoubtedly had an impression on our year, but didn't quite squeeze into a top slot in another list. 

5) My Tiger My Timing
France's Kitsuné label has introduced us to quite a few acts that have grown near and dear to my heart, and this year London's My Tiger My Timing was added to the list. The quartet makes quirky pop music that rolls and bounces with an organic dance sensibility. Praise was heaped upon them this year and with the release of their debut record next year, we might just see them back here in our 2011 Year in Review. Check out "I Am Sound" and their Arthur Russell tribute "Arm Around You" which will be featured on our year end mix.

4) Mystery Jets
The band from Eel Pie Island was back in full force for 2010. A steady work in progress, the Mystery Jets released its third—and most cohesive—album, Serotonin, and came one step closer to perfect harmony in their mix of psych, pop, country, folk and '80s-era electronica. Serotonin does play down the electro thump more prominent on Twenty One, but the attitude and the danceability are still there. The group's vintage aesthetic suits them better anyway. From the sugary sing along of the title track (our year end mix selection) to the soaring trippiness of "Dreaming of Another World," I belted it out whenever these songs found their way into my DJ sets and I don't intend to stop anytime soon. (Plus I want to live in the music video world created for "Dreaming...").

3) Mark Ronson
It just occurred to me that London rocked my musical world in 2010. Every selection in this list (and quite a few in the other lists) is from the foggy metropolis. One who's truly embraced the rich history of that musical mecca, Mark Ronson looks, acts and writes the music for the part better than anyone. His London-centric style is unmistakable, and while his style in undeniably indebted to American pop music, he takes it and does with it what greats like the Rolling Stones did, almost one upping us at our own game. I didn't get to spend the time with Record Collection that I wanted to, but "Bang Bang Bang" and "Somebody to Love Me" played big roles in my musical identity this year. Look for DJ U-Tern's remix of "Bang Bang Bang" on our year end mix.

2) Four Tet
Keiran Hebdon is one of the greatest musical minds working today. He's not a populist musician, in fact some of his work—like his project with jazz musician Steve Reid—is quite challenging. But I'd like to think anyone could recognize the beauty of "Angel Echos," the opening track on this year's "There Is Love In You." In my January album review, I said, "drawing from his usual schizophrenic mix of folk, jazz, hip-hop and electronica, There Is Love In You is meticulously constructed from a cacophony of sounds that, in their dissonance are, none-the-less, subtly pleasing to the ears." Revisiting it while I write this, I couldn't agree more.

1) Caribou
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Snaith this year about his latest record Swim. A great guy to talk to, he's also surfing the gap between the rock and electronic worlds, much like Four Tet. Speaking a bit about that, he told me, “the expectation of dance music is that it is very rigid, metallic sounding and crisp. I like the idea of everything floating around in an ethereal way but still with rhythmic elements referencing dance music.” With each consecutive listen to Swim we find we also like floating along with its ethereal rhythms. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Album Review: Plastikman | Arkives + MP3

M_Nus Records

tech•no \tek-nõ\ n + chill•out \ chil-aût \ vb

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine: TOC | Plastikman

It’s hard to imagine Richie Hawtin as a wide-eyed kid from Windsor, Canada, growing up just across the Detroit River from techno’s birthplace. Now Hawtin, with his signature space-age eyewear, is revered in the DJ world. This past Memorial Day he was worshipped by ravers young and old at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, headlining the same stages as his earliest influences, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson. And while lately he’s most recognized by his own name, his Plastikman guise was the center of attention that night back in May.

Hawtin has recorded under more than ten aliases, but Plastikman is undoubtedly the most prolific. His M_nus label is releasing this massive retrospective chronicling his output between 1993 and 2003—his most productive period. Arkives gathers all six of his studio albums and is available as 11 CDs, six LPs or, for the completist, a combination of the two. Each comes with oodles of extras and takes listeners deep into a golden era of techno, when Hawtin was rewriting the rules for the music, and how people partied to it.

Elastic, spare, haunting, deeply melodic and often ambient, Hawtin’s output as Plastikman presented a stark contrast to the rolling thunder drums-and-bass bombast of most of that era’s techno. A wizard with a Roland 303, the quintessential studio synth of the time, he was freaking acid basslines like no one else had before. Weaving them with stark drum lines and washes of ambient tones, Hawtin introduced the world to minimal. His profile expanded exponentially once people caught wind of what it was like when this guy threw a party. Forget the glowsticks and Technicolor garb; a Plastikman night was dark, loud and sweaty.

Armed with this impressive release, all you need is a strobe light, some black paper for your walls and a handful of pills spanning the colors of the rainbow and you can re-create the no-frills sound and spectacle of Plastikman’s now legendary all-nighters.

—Joshua P. Ferguson

To help big up this massive release, Richie sat down for this interview to help paint the picture of all that Arkives encompasses.

And here's a recent promo MP3 that includes a Moby remix, just to help get you all salivating for more from one of techno's biggest names.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Movie Review | Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy
a review by Joshua P. Ferguson
To most, I'm sure the idea of Jeff Bridges as a computer-guru-turned-master-of-the-universe is a bit of a stretch. But settling into the IMAX theater at Navy Pier in Chicago last night for an advance screening, I was more than ready to suspend disbelief and let the sensory overload flight of fancy that is the new Tron movie whisk me away to a digital alternate universe—the Grid—ruled by not one, but two all powerful, wise and God-like Jeff Bridges's.

Like the iconic light bikes that have been blazing a trail through the movie's previews, Tron Legacy propels itself faster than the speed of sound. After no more than 15 minutes of back story, plot set up and the discovery of a way into the Grid, our hero, Sam Flynn (actor Garrett Hedlund who, aside from a role in Four Brothers is best known for a minor role as Patroclus in Troy. He seems to have a thing for four-letter movies that start in TRO.) is off in cyberspace in search of his missing father Kevin Flynn (Bridges). In another blink of an eye, he's being outfitted by four foxy sirens and set loose in the gladiatorial games you might remember from the original Tron. But these sequences don't look like their 1982 counterparts. This is 2010: Let the 3D, high contrast, high definition action commence.

While no one will be taking home any Best Actor Oscars for their performances in the movie, Tron Legacy is a visual delight. In fact, between the fantasy world and the soundtrack it's a wet dream for stoners, video game addicts and Sci-Fi junkies everywhere. I was glued to the screen for the entire movie. I'm not saying it's a masterpiece, but if you walk away from this movie having not been entertained, then I probably don't want to hang out with you. Our heroine Quorra, whose mysterious background I won't reveal, is simultaneously sexy, dangerous and wide-eyed. The non-evil Kevin Flynn is a hippie sage who spouts words like dig, cat, man and radical as if he knows that he was the Dude in a past life. At first this may seem cheesy but that fades when you remind yourself it's a Disney film. Flynn's son, Sam has a long way to go before he's the next big action star, but he's a perfectly passable frontman, handsome enough, tough enough and witty enough. 

My only real beef is the evil Kevin Flynn a.k.a. CLU 2.0, a digital clone who has gone awry in his pursuit of the perfect world, a world he was created to design. It's not the character that I take issue with (although the plot line isn't exactly original, iRobot, Alien and, of course, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey come to mind). It's that he's a CGI rendering of Bridges from the first film. Great in concept, but in reality it begs comparison to Terminator Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Patrick Stewart appear in eye-rolling digital form. Granted, in those movies it was budget or studio issues that prevented the real actors from appearing and in Tron Legacy's it's merely a matter of age, but still, no matter how advanced our computer animation technology is, computer people still look just like that, generated, not born. And I doubt any film wants to be compared to X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Seeing as this is predominantly a music blog, I can't conclude without spending some time with the music. Especially when the soundtrack was composed by Daft Punk, in a role the duo seemed born to tackle. I nabbed the soundtrack just before Thanksgiving and have probably listened to it more than any other soundtrack, ever. As the faceless  critics scattered about the web fuss over the fact that it's not the Daft Punk album they've all been waiting for, I have only this to say: duh, it's not supposed to be. It's a soundtrack. To a movie. And as such, hearing it in conjunction with one of the coolest versions of a cyber future ever rendered, I was completely floored. At times, Daft Punk's sonic precision seemed almost too much for the sound system in the theater, pushing those speakers to the absolute limit. Lush, cinematic and dark by Disney standards, it completes the experience, bring the film full circle like the power rings that are so central to the plot.

Sure, upon nationwide release, critics will take issue with elements of the film. I can see arguments that despair over too much action, too much attention paid to visual stimuli and special effects and not enough to dialogue, acting and the like. It was built to be a franchise with sequels and spin-offs waiting in the wings. Blah blah blah. But—and this is something that both myself and my movie-going companion had to keep reminding ourselves—this is first and foremost a movie for young boys. For them, and those of us who are unwilling to let go of that part of us, it's a fantastically wild ride. One we look forward to more of.

While we're here, here's the official video for the soundtrack's lead single, "Derezzed."

Daft Punk - Derezzed from Rocktails on Vimeo. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview: Pharrell Williams | N.E.R.D. + MP3

Q & A with N.E.R.D.'s Pharrell Williams

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 10.14.10

This week N.E.R.D. dropped a batch of remixes for their collaboration with Daft Punk, "Hypnotize You." Whereas the last batch—Boyz Noise, Hot Chip, Yeasayer and Nero remixes of "Hot-n-Fun"—failed to leave much of an impression, this one squarely hit the mark. The big room electro jocks can take their pick of Alex Metric's poppy squarewave workout and Nero's epic tech-step. Those with something deeper in mind have Dirty South and Pete Tong's hypnotic rerubs. All in all, and as with the original, it's something for the club that the DJ can get down with too.

Prior to the release of N.E.R.D.'s latest LP, Nothing, I had the opportunity to speak with Pharrell about the record, his work with Daft Punk and his various other world-changing endeavors. You could call him a mogul. Alongside N.E.R.D., he's one half of Grammy-winning production duo the Neptunes and he oversees an empire on top of that. When not cutting tracks with superstars like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg, he’s collaborating on clothing line Billionaire Boys Club, designing tank chairs and scoring Despicable Me.

Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

Joshua P. Ferguson: You guys enlisted Daft Punk to produce “Hypnotize U.” As prolific producers in your own right, it must’ve been interesting to let someone else do the job.

Pharell Williams: It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was just like, man, we gotta put this on. That song is kind of like the future. The album serves as a kind of timeless thing, and that’s something that lives in the future.

JPF: Listening to other tracks on Nothing, I do hear a futuristic twist on ’50s rock & roll, jazz and even gospel. Is that a nostalgia thing?

PW: We definitely wanted to use a lot of vintage sounds to make new songs—Crosby, Stills & Nash, America, the Moody Blues, the Doors. We tried to make songs that feel like they should have been on some of their albums, but with the N*E*R*D twist, with like an 808 under it and shit.

JPF: One person it recalls is Mark Ronson. He has a similar style.

PW: He heard it, and he was really kind. He sang it a lot of cool praises.

JPF: Other praise that often comes your way is the media’s portrayal of you as a modern-day renaissance man.

PW: I don’t pay attention to that. I know it’s a compliment, but it’s not who you are, man, it’s what you do. What you do makes you who you are. Who you think you are, you’re not.

Continue reading

If you're in the Chicago area, NERO is making their debut appearance in the city at Subterranean this Saturday, Dec 4.

Here's a download link to the Nero remix of N.E.R.D.'s "Hypnotize You"