oct 2

Is This How Girls Talk?

11 Reasons Why I Won't Shut Up About The New Girl Talk Album

It started innocently enough. But then it began to defy reason, and perhaps even humanity.

The first listen left behind an acceptable reaction: a smirk. You know, a smirk, that universal nod to The Clever, which we all now appreciate on some level, ever since tv got good and Gnarles Barkley went platinum.

After two listens, the gimmick should have worn thin, allowing me valuable time to obsess about more urgent matters, such as lonelygirl15's identity and how to get Kristen Bell to read my blog.

After the third play, the seams of the mixes should have split open to reveal a soul-less pastiche. (And you all know how we feel about the soul-less pastiche. Especially since 9/11.) By now, this relic should have disappeared into my CD case, sitting somewhere between We Are The World and The Gray Album.

And yet.

And yet, I've somehow become obsessed with the new Girl Talk album, Night Ripper, which came out last spring, and has slowly gained interest and momentum, especially in my murky mind. The premise is so trite that I'm hesitant to even type it: a gigantic, monstrous, and possibly illegal mashup consisting entirely of songs from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Within 10 seconds, you will hear Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son" segue into Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" into M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume" into Madonna's "Hung Up". Yes, I know exactly what you're thinking: one listen, max.

And yet, I keep listening, not because I discover new meaning, but because it elicits new questions. Several bozos have already said good art asks questions (doy!), so this doesn't necessarily make it profound in any way. Unless, of course, they are good questions, which I'm sincerely not sure these are:

1) Is this good? Sure, the aesthetic question is always the most difficult one, especially in this touchy age -- just ask yourself if Jackass is "good". But one thing makes Girl Talk especially difficult to ascribe "quality" to: it lacks the criteria by which to judge such a thing. Does it matter that this DJ has good taste, or would it be better if he had bad taste? Is there an aspect to the craft worth praise, or could robots have created the album? What would a "better" version of this sound like?

2) What's that song? No matter how much you think you know about music, listening to this album will leave you in a constant state of Name That Tune -- but in a lighting round. As snippets of songs stream by for 42 straight minutes, you're left paralyzed with on-the-tip-of-my-tongue disease. You will sorta hate this.

3) Where's my wiki? At just the moment you become frustrated enough to start Googling lyrics, you'll wonder why there's no wiki. Has there ever been an album in the history of music that needed a wiki more than this? And let's just spin it with bombast: does this album exist because of "the idea" of wikis?

4) Why is this album broken up into tracks? Um, yeah? It's a constant stream of three decades of pop music, so why bother? What purpose could it possibly serve to slice this into tracks with names like "Minute by Minute" and "Too Deep"? Naming a "best" track is like asking your iPod Shuffle to boil your entire existence down to one song.

5) What will this sound like in 2025? Or to put it another way, does this album defy age?

6) Is this nostalgia? This is just a VH1 special, right? Yes, and no. You could just as easily claim the opposite of nostalgia: timelessness.

7) Is this a form of criticism? There's a point in which Girl Talk samples The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony," which famously led to a copyright lawsuit because it sampled The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time." Ah, clever. That sample seems an obvious (and daring) wink, but let's take an even more prosaic example: ELO's "Strange Magic" plays underneath a sped-up version of Kanye West's "Gold Digger." There are a hundred moments like this, which you feel should be "interpreted" in some way. But you also feel like a pretentious dork for wanting to do this.

8) Why has no one done this before? Well, obviously Gregg Gillis (that's the DJ behind Girl Talk -- an actual person! from Pittsburgh!) thought of it before, as this is his third album. And certainly The Avalanches and 2 Many DJs and even Negativland had something similar going on. What makes this different is how it's completely gaudy -- so tacky that it's post-tacky. It is only samples, and only famous samples. It has zero pretense, all surface, like a Warhol soup can.

9) Isn't this just a good wedding mix? Exactly. I don't know. I really don't know.

10) Could you rip this off? You tell me if this is an interesting question: what if you took all these tracks, put them on a CD, and released it under your name? Would that be stealing? Someone get Banksy on the phone...

11) Will he get sued? This is, of course, the question that everyone asks -- you can't avoid it. Yet it is happens to be the least interesting question.

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I love it too. And here's your wiki.

posted by michael at 9:01 PM on October 2, 2006

Huh, I don't know why I didn't think to check Wikipedia. Brilliant.

posted by Rex at 9:14 PM on October 2, 2006

Only heard snippets on Amazon... Now, not to sound like a pretentious dork, but doesn't the idea of robots being able to make this somehow assume the fixity of the units being pastiched together? That these aren't 'units of culture', multi-faceted and multi-valenced, but rigid pieces of art, the position of which is static and universal? What I think is true though, is that this requires a different sort of aesthetic appreciation - one that acknowledges the comfort, 'winking' and sense of wit that comes from listening to bits of your own cultural make-up stitched together into a song - umm, of sorts.

posted by Nav at 12:03 AM on October 3, 2006

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