Saturday, June 21, 2008
Name That Tune, Music Geeks
Q: How is Girl Talk's new album like the Guggenheim after 6pm on Friday?
A: It's pay what you wish!
I could get used to this. As was the case with Radiohead's In Rainbows, the only time I pay for music anymore is when I can name my own price. O, what a spoiled generation to inherit this dying world. Download the Feed The Animals LP in it's entirety at Illegal-Art.
For those wondering who or what Girl Talk is, he's a mash-up artist and everyone just loves him. The gimmick is he samples equally from current commercial hip hop (o_O) and the history of rock, which for him runs from cheeseball 7os anthems to alternative radio one hit wonders. As one who came of age on alternative rock, I have to say GT has pretty impeccable taste in this arena. Only two songs into the new album I was recognizing personal all-time faves like Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog and Boy/Girl by Aphex Twin, so my theoretical issues with him aside, I'm hooked.
The aforementioned issues and the racial politics of meaningless dance music, after the jump....
Alright, so this is what happens when you grow up in Berkeley. You can't not see racial politics in literally anything that you spend more than 30 seconds thinking about. GT's previous album, Night Ripper, is on frequent rotation on my iPod, and from my first listen I've been distracted by the implications of pulling sexually crude/aggressive lyrics from songs uniformly by black artists (and those creating music in one of the most derided genres today, commercial hip-hop) and presenting them in a sort of sideshow, laughably-flamboyant context by grouping these clips together in such high concentration. They're even further decontextualized when positioned against comparatively quaint musical and lyrical excerpts from uniformly white artists, which are taken from a much broader spectrum of decades and genres.
But to bring this critique into reality a little, I don't doubt that Girl Talk loves the rap samples he mixes in. Quote from a Nerve.com interview from the Night Ripper era:
"I've always been into juxtapositions of really different elements. Things like really overtly sexual rap mixed with clean-cut '70s pop music, stuff like that. You hear a guy rapping about having sex, and it's set over James Taylor. I think it's what makes the music fun."
So subjectively, I'm not trying to accuse Girl Talk of anything. Am I saying it's somehow not right to juxtapose sexy stuff from modern rap and precious stuff from the history of rock? That's a no. But any time you have a piece of work that pulls from the cultural ether of two distinct racial groups, I think it's fair to reflect on the significance of what's being extracted.
BUT: this new album actually bucks that critique by drawing from a much broader scope of black artists, and without the same pointed scope of subject matter. The music taken from white artists is also generally less precious, with some metal and trashy modern pop making appearances. In closing, let me remind the reader it is not the job of artists to impose meaning on their work, it's the job of critics. I don't know how I went from being an artist to a critic, but I think I have to go kill myself now.