(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, November 19, 2010

CD review - Girl Talk, All Day (2010)

Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) is sorry for slowing down the internet with Monday's free online release of his fifth album, All Day. He's been working on the project in secret and released the album with no warning and little fanfare. But the word spread like wildfire. Soon enough, the mirror sites were set up to give Illegal Art, his label, a little breathing room. Like his other work, All Day is available for free download at here. If you appreciate his effort, you should drop a donation.

Girl Talk stands out on the mash up scene for his kitchen sink, manic mash up remixes. As impressive as his albums are, he's also known for mixing a great live show.

That live show approach comes through because All Day is more of a Club DJ style compared to straight up mash up artists. It focused on keeping people dancing in a party mood. The club crowd might be intrigued as they recognize individual samples or parts, but they appreciate the shorter sections that keep the groove from becoming a rut. Dance, share a nod with your friends when a familiar or surprising sample pops up, but don't waste time obsessing on the details.

On the other hand, All Day stands up to a focused ear as well. The sheer number of samples mixed in and out can be overwhelming...right up until a perfect storm blows in and grabs your ear. "Did I really hear...?" It might be the Ramones (Blitzkeig Bop) layered with the Doors (Waiting for the Sun) leading into Trini featuring Killer Mike (Look Back at Me). Or maybe it's Jadakiss (Who's Real) setting up Radiohead (Creep) melting under Ol' Dirty Bastard (Shimmy Shimmy Ya). The mesh of music and rap in that last combination are perfect. The flow is more like singing and then the ODB's rap sets up Radiohead's vocals.

Girl Talk's vision is that All Day should be treated as a single mega track. It's easy to see why -- the individual tracks mutate over time drifting far from their beginnings. For example, the first track, Oh No leads off with Black Sabbath's War Pigs and settles into a mash up with Ludakris' Move Bitch. This combo comes to an end around 2:12, with the new mash up section sounding like the start of a new song. This means you need to look at the iPod display to identify when the tracks transition.

Most mash up artists set their focus on a particular set of two or three songs to mix and then create a single mash up track that they'll title to indicate the songs they used (e.g. Blondie vs. the Doors Rapture Riders). Compared to that, Girl Talk has an interesting form of ADHD. His attention span is shorter, where each mash up set of songs last a brief while before they are tossed aside for something new. At the same time, he has a larger scope for chaining together a flow of continuous mashing.

He builds these mash up chains following a tight structure. He'll start with a couple of samples (call them A and B) , maybe using another beat underneath. Then, he'll drop out one sample (A) and substitute another (C, so the mix is B & C), shifting the whole feel. Sometimes, he'll switch back to the original set (A&B), but more likely, he'll drop the older remaining sample for something else that catches his ear (moving on with C & D).

Girl Talk must have an incredible music collection. The 370+ samples on All Day range from older classic rock (Black Sabbath, Cream, Doors) to modern rap (50 Cent, Ludakris, Kesha), with everything in between. For all the familiar samples from Ice Cube, Lady Gaga, or Miley Cyrus he'll throw in more obscure songs like Todies' Possum Kingdom.

This kind of complexity calls for a session beer, like Gordon Biersch's Schwarzbier: lighter in alcohol, but not flavor or color.

Thanks to Matt Z for the hip tip.

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