Mish-Mash Music

Girl Talk’s latest album, Feed the Animals, dropped just over two weeks ago. Chronic overthinker Brandon Lueken examines the driving forces behind mashups today.

The sound of the summer has arrived. It’s full hooks, lasts almost an hour, and contains just about every noise you could hope for. I’ve been listening to Girl Talk’s new album, Feed the Animals, non-stop since it dropped (hat tip to Bureaucracy for informing me). On the bus, cooking dinner, on walks, while surfing the internet–damnit, no time is a bad time for the long awaited sequel to the complex and innovative album that was Night Ripper. Animals doesn’t pick up where Ripper left off; it starts leaps and bounds ahead of it.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

In the two years between albums, it’s obvious that Girl Talk, née Gregg Gillis, has learned a few new tricks. Animals offers recognizable pop samples paired with more obscure rap lyrics. As a result, the mixture is fresher than Night Ripper and doesn’t sound like someone wildly changing radio stations. The pace of the album is also more comfortable, allowing for the occasional lull before cranking the energy back up.

Thankfully, Gillis doesn’t kill most of his good sounds in embryo, as he did before. It hurt me deeply that Smashing Pumpkin’s “Today” only got, like, ten seconds on the whole of Ripper, while the maddening ear-aching sounds of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps” dominated whole tracks. Here, the best beats, like the surprisingly amazing Kelly Clarkson/Nine Inch Nails/MC Hammer combination, are granted nearly a full minute.

But in my two-year wait for something new, I explored more of the mashup world. Now, I’m not quite satisfied with Girl Talk’s huge new release on an artistic level. In 53 minutes, there are many good mashups, but they last a single minute, if not less. You don’t have time to get tired of the song, but you don’t have much time to enjoy it either. Gillis has skills, but ultimately, something this large and expansive becomes more novelty than innovation. It’s fun to play Name That Tune (although somewhat cheapened by the Wikipedia entry), but beyond acting as a diversion, the music doesn’t say much.

Lesser-known mashup artists have had varying success combining music and turning it into something wholly different.

On one hand, there’s DJ Doc Rok’s The Biggie Hendrix Experience. This scant ten song, 29-minute album of the Notorious BIG/Jimi Hendrix made me realize that Biggie was a reprehensible human being, and that Jimi Hendrix truly was a guitar god worthy of all his praise. There’s also DJ BC’s attempt at pairing rappers with the works of Philip Glass. I’ll let that speak for itself…

But there is hope.

The King of the Mashup, in my mind, is DJ Earworm. Like Girl Talk, he plays mainly live sets, but the handful of songs he’s released on his website have been astonishing. Instead of the usual pop/rap mix-up fodder, Earworm tries to stay away from rap.

“I hate using rap. Rap’s too easy,” he said in a San Francisco Bay Guardian article.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

In “No One Takes Your Freedom,” he samples the Scissor Sisters, the Beatles, George Michael, and Aretha Franklin to create a narrative about lost love. He re-contextualizes each style of music to convey a message that was present in each song, but always second fiddle. Earworm united these diverse artists in a way that was not possible before.

Sure, he’s dabbled with the Girl Talk like mega-mixes (“The United States of Pop” features Billboard’s top 25 singles for 2007 in just over five minutes), but most of his songs have just a handful of musicians. The songs themselves have recognizable intros, verses, choruses, and even key changes. He wrote a whole textbook about the art of the mashup, which builds its foundation from actual music theory. He’s operating on a different level by changing the scope of his music.

Though Gillis flirts with themes and narratives in his work, Girl Talk is largely a novelty in a field that is slowly moving towards something else, something new. DJ Earworm is already out and about in San Francisco innovating evenings for clubbers. This music just doesn’t sound good; it says something. And that makes all the difference.

Brandon Lueken is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a Bachelor's Degree in English. He has done many things, including editing his college newspaper, writing and directing a short play, angering large groups of people en masse, and acting as both the good and the bad shoulder angel. One day, Brandon hopes to give people their dreams, but whether this is literal or figurative, no one knows.