Girl Talk

At the risk of revealing myself as A) behind the times, and B) a complete tool, I’m going to share that I’ve recently gotten back into heavy exercise. At the gym, I usually listen to (here’s where the “complete tool” part comes in) This American Life or some other talky podcast where I don’t have to worry about (tool again) consistently high-energy beats. But praise be to Pittsburgh’s Greg Gillis, whose Night Ripper from 2006 is a (the behind the times part) mashup masterpiece that (tool) keeps my adrenaline PUMPED, man! For my money, Z-Trip is still the high-water mark of such guerrilla hip-hop-classic-rock-punk-pop-whatever mixing, but what Gillis does with the riffs from The Pixies, the Strokes and Weezer in “Hold Up” helps me burn 500 calories in two minutes. Girl Talk’s newest, Feed the Animals, is available here for whatever price you want to pay, which I’ve already done so that I can take my workout to anotha level of behind-the-times toolness. Join me and feel the burn!

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Someday, when every respectable university offers sampling/remix/mashup culture curricula and tweed jackets are replaced by hoodies, expect to find lectures devoted to a particular five minutes and 23 seconds of musical history: Double Dee and Steinski’s “The Payoff Mix.” The track, an entry by a couple of first-time bedroom producers to a remix contest put on by Tommy Boy Records in 1983, has shaped both underground and popular music for decades (two and a half to be exact) and still stands on its own two legs… The technique of audio juxtaposition and recontextualization (otherwise known as “rewind moments”) and even the specific samples the duo used on that pioneering track have become as common to hip-hop, remixes, and mash-ups as backspins and “yes y’alls” — if you can’t help but read, “And, say children, what does it all mean?” in the voice of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (even if you had no idea who you were imitating) you’ve been affected by Double Dee and Steinski.

Steinski’s musical “career” started much later than most; he was 32 years old when he created “The Payoff Mix” and didn’t make any money from the record because it was comprised entirely of illegal samples. This makes the thorough and long-overdue Steinski retrospective, What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006, all the more impressive as you take in the full range of his work — everything from “The Lessons” (the first three tracks he made with Double Dee) to his audio documentaries of the JFK assasination and 9/11 to an hour-long mashup bonanza he produced for Coldcut’s Solid Steel show on the BBC. Class is in session…

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Realistic (brainchild of musician/motion graphics designer James Towning) started a la Negativland: whipping up a smirky hodge-podge of everything from self-help tapes to soap operas to classic rock. With Perpetual Memory Loss, Realistic rises to the next level, crafting some outright tuneful (if chaotic) thumpers from layers of sounds and samples. These tracks illustrate the contrast between albums, but don’t even represent the best that Realistic has to offer. Stream the whole album here in order to hear the excellent tracks “Music in the Round” and “Amazing Fall.”

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Oh Astro

Caution! These songs may induce seizures or stuttering. My dad used to stutter severely. Up into his early 20s he could barely get out name out. He passed it down to his sons, although we never stuttered to the extent my father did. I remember going to speech therapy when I was in elementary school. They’d encourage me to stutter away. Talk right through the anticipation, the fear of stuttering. It worked for me. On rare occasions I still stutter, but it doesn’t bother me at all. With apologies to those who struggle with dysfluency, stuttering reminds me of a remix, of turntable scratching. It artfully strips down language to its phonemes. And it can be rhythmic. The sample-tastic duo Oh Astro shares my interest in stuttering. On their new album, Champions of Wonder, they strip down existing songs down to individual notes, mash in a few other songs or vocals, and freshen up or create entirely new interpretations of those source works. Said re-workings are wonderfully bumpy and jumpy and bravely taunt copyright restrictions. Oh Astro’s label, Illegal Art, “claims Fair Use for all of its releases and has professional legal counsel nearby if needed.” Smart move. A stream of the entire album is available via Oh Astro’s ecard and I highly suggest you follow along with their sample notes as you listen.

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