Our favorite things this week include Willie Hutch, Morgan Spurlock's new project, and new Walk the Moon.
The Mack’s Midnight Dancer: I have been in awe of producer and guitarist Willie Hutch since I first heard his soundtracks for The Mack (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). His blaxploitation soundtracks are every bit as powerful and cinematic as anything by Isaac Hayes. “Theme of The Mack” begins with a mournful trumpet over gently strummed guitar chords that sounds like the backdrop for an establishing shot of the ghetto, but within moments a short fanfare moves into an energetic, bustling scene of a vibrant Harlem, possibly with The Mack working the streets. I’ve never seen the movie, but Hutch’s work evokes the movie’s world so completely that visuals aren't necessary. I can’t imagine the movie having more emotional impact than the closing “Brother’s Gonna Work it Out.” The sorrowful flute makes the female voices singing the title phrase sound ironic, particularly after a quoted bit of dialogue that suggests how uphill the fight is. But once the song kicks in, the ascending strings and horns suggest that maybe there’s a chance—a sentiment stated in his lyric.
Hutch worked at Motown, and he also contributed to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon in 1985, and while he’s not as assured working with the sonics du jour, “The Glow” largely holds up. In between, he recorded non-soundtrack music including two for Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s Whitfield Records. Those albums—1978’s In Tune and 1979’s Midnight Dancer—have recently been reissued by Real Gone Music, and my takeaway is twofold: 1) Someone providing subject matter helped him; and 2) His gift for funky drama was strong.
There are too many songs about girls and getting on the floor to be truly memorable, but in song after song Hutch makes something out of nothing. “And All Hell Broke Loose” from In Tune could have come from one of his soundtracks with a slow build as he tells the story of walking into a dead club, giving the DJ his new record, and having the room go nuts. Similarly, “Anything is Possible if You Believe in Love” could be an optimistic love theme were a movie to call for one.
I listen more to Midnight Dancer, but I’m not sure it’s for good reasons. Hutch went all in on disco for it, but the MFSB-like opening to “Disco Thang” suggested that his cinematic flair could survive disco’s four-on-the-floor beat. It doesn’t always, but Hutch seems musically inspired by the challenges the new context presented him. He expands his instrumental palate to include synths and plays with structure to let songs stretch out without becoming repetitive. Lyrically, “Down Here on Disco Street” suggests he was guessing at how to be contemporary in 1979 and not guessing well, but he does as much with the form musically as Barry White. Even when the song’s ideas are rote, his grooves are organic and compelling. (Alex Rawls)
What Three Alpacas Can Do for You: Economics is hard. Economics is scary. And for a lot of people, the workings and minutiae of the economy can be tough to wrap your head around without extensive schooling or research. Enter Morgan Spurlock, the guy who spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonalds and produced a film now shown in just about every health class in America. Working together with Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions, Spurlock’s latest project is We the Economy, a series of 20 short films that explain specific and important concepts about the economy. All of the films are available to watch on the project’s website, where they’re organized into chapters that pose questions such as, “What is the economy?” and “What is the role of our government?”
These films are more than just lessons out of a textbook. Crafted by renowned directors such as Catherine Hardwicke, James Schamus, and Adam McKay and starring such famous actors as Amy Poehler and Werner Herzog, the films are entertaining, compelling, and more often than not funny. Take, for example, the sugary animated tale of three just graduated alpacas trying to find work at a lollipop factory as an explanation of income inequality. We the Economy may not qualify you for a degree in economics, but it’ll keep your attention and give you a better grasp on the important stuff. (Lauren Keenan)
A Long Walk on a Dark Night: My obsession with Walk the Moon began in a small dorm room that belonged to no one. I was a freshman, and the night before had attempted to keep up with a 250-pound senior who was exclusively drinking Wild Turkey. I woke up with what remains the most intense hangover I’ve ever experienced. I had a final paper to write before midnight, and in an attempt to minimize distractions brought my laptop and texts to the floor’s randomly unoccupied dorm room that people had been using to shack up. Walk the Moon’s breakthrough record on repeat helped me focus and get through.
About two months ago, they released their first single since the album dropped in 2012 and instead of evoking PTSD, Walk the Moon’s healing powers presented themselves again. “Shut Up and Dance” is a lovable new wave, nostalgic pop song that reeks of the 80s, and it’s this week’s “Free Download” on iTunes. (Justin Picard)