Monday, July 21, 2008

7/21/08 - Feed The Animals

A while back, I wrote a bit on mashups and Girl Talk, and with the recent release of Feed The Animals, Gillis's Night Ripper follow-up, the subject seems worth revisiting. Like a pair of CCR albums that I've been listening to recently (Green River and Willy and the Poorboys), the second album seems like a continuation of the first, as though the artist in question simply took a break after writing an album's worth of songs, got up, got a up of coffee, sat back down, and knocked out another one of similar mood, style, and overall quality. It's successive albums like this (or strings of them) when bands can come to seem like superstar athletes, locking into the realm of the unconscious and sinking shot after shot or hitting homer after homer, making it look identical and uniform. What's amazing is that for an athlete this comes in the span of minutes and hours, while for a band it often comes in spans of months and years.

It can be toxic to artistic development, especially when self-consciousness creeps in and they're no longer knocking it out of the park without even thinking. God forbid it happen at the beginning of the artistic career - then you've got the sad spectacle of chasing after ghosts for an entire articstic lifetime. It seems to me that bands that stumble first or often along the way can then more easily revist the peaks later in their career. So I feel reassured to know that Girl Talk put out two terrible glitch-pop DJ mixes before detonating Night Ripper all over my face.

Quick list of bands that hit multi-album strings of similar quality & style:

The Strokes (Is This It & Room On Fire)
CCR (Green River & Willy and the Poorboys)
Randy Newman (Sail Away & Good Old Boys)
Ben Folds Five (s/t & Whatever & Ever Amen)
Pixies (Surfer Rosa & Doolittle)
Arcade Fire (Funeral & Neon Bible)


Bands that show marked & ragged development

The White Stripes (s/t to De Stijl to White Blood Cells)
Nirvana (Bleach to Nevermind)
Radiohead (Pablo Honey to The Bends)
The Hold Steady (Separation Sunday to Boys and Girls in America)
The Clash (Give 'Em Enough Rope to London Calling)

So Night Ripper is the Leap, but Feed The Animals maintains the spot on the plateau, and creates the beautiful illusion that Gillis could keep putting out 46 minute masterpieces like this until he dies or doesn't feel like doing it anymore. A perilous position to be in, for sure, because where's the escape hatch? But in the meantime it doubles the Night Ripper-quality output for everyone to enjoy.

Previously, I lauded Gillis for ignoring obscurity, which is the guiding principle for many DJs - the recontextualizing of the obscure. Listening to Feed The Animals, what's striking is the almost scientific way that Gillis isolates the hooks of the songs that he features. Every sample comes form a hit (and usually a massive, U.S. or worldwide hit), and for a song to hit like that it has to have at least one (and often several) monster, undeniable hooks. Usually that comes in the chorus, but as Gillis shows in his two monster pop albums, not as often as you might think. He shows an uncanny knack choosing the best or catchiest 10 seconds of each song he samples, and forms his weave out of those 10 second moments threaded together from beginning to end.

So, for example, he shows that most of Eminem's "Shake That Ass" pales next to the opening verse, and that the pop rush of Nirvana's "Lithium" really does come from those descending "Yeah Yeah Yeahs" - which cleverly calls out that Pixies/Nirvana loud-soft-loud move as the pop hook that it is, not the abrasive attack that it seems to position itself as. It's like the way William Goldman claims his Princess Bride is the good parts version, without the unnecessary boring parts - Feed the Animals is all good parts. That can make it somewhat exhausting, like catching a case of contact ADD. But it's the same thing that makes the album/mix/song/set such a rush in the first place.

1 comment:

mike brotzman said...

Yo if you think Feed The Animals is exhausting, snag E-603's Something For Everyone. Listening to it makes you realize how much of a musician Gillis really is: E-603 doesn't know when to stop, doesn't employ anything resembling dynamics, just tosses it all in there, and never as adroitly as Gillis is able to; the effect is just to berate and annoy. Girl Talk is real good at bringing the tempo and volume down and up without losing any energy (his music is always going somewhere or coming from somewhere).