Monday, November 22, 2010

Girl Talk's "All Day" Doesn't Stack Up to his Yesterday

A lot of words have already been written around the interwebs about what the new Girl Talk album, All Day, is. I'm going to start with a few things it's not.

It's not groundbreaking. It's not innovative. It's not astonishingly new.

In fact the more spins Gregg Gillis' recent work receives (including the two albums prior to this) the more glaring it becomes that he's just digitally recreating what a lot of great DJs have been doing for years. To say it's earth-shattering is to neglect the work done by Kool Keith (Dr. Octagon), Qbert and Shadow, and the complex mixes that Gillis has been lauded for are easily overshadowed by The Avalanches superb Since I Left You from 2000.

Granted, the novelty of Girl Talk isn't entirely based on his mixing skill. He's become famous largely for taking recognizable bits of iconic rock songs and mixing them in with hip-hop on a massive scale. Rock fans, through his work, are introduced to classic and club hip-hop through songs they've grown up knowing and loving. In this vein, though, All Day still isn't the most interesting piece in Gillis' own catalog. Feed the Animals from 2008 is far more fun and engaging using far more sound clips creating songs that sound more spry and organic. Its an album that creates the same club vibe but relies less on playing huge clips of actual hits. Some of the snippets heard on All Day are actually re-used from the previous record which furthers the impression of this album as a lesser reproduction. Even 2006's Night Ripper seems, to me, the more ambitious project as it isn't as beholden to club hits to create its beats. Biggie's "Juicy" played over Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" might be the best few seconds of work that Gillis has ever done. In light if this (lack of) progression even Gillis' early experimentations with glitch seem more intriguing.

Listening through this album for the first time is sort of like listening to the Ramones' End of the Century after already hearing and loving Rocket to Russia. The production is much cleaner and the techniques are essentially the same but the songs have lost some of their punch. Indeed, the fact that they are so similar to previous work, at some point, simply indicates an inability to grow further. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Green Day's Dookie. It's an album that stands on the shoulders of many previous giants and doesn't really build on the band's own work, but became a success precisely because the band's past record brought it to a critical mass of critical praise and underground awareness. It's not necessarily better than Kerplunk but it has undoubtedly cleaner production and it capitalized on Kerplunk's success to launch the trio into the popular consciousness.

This is all not to say that All Day - or End of the Century or Dookie - is a bad album. In fact, it's quite good. Gillis' transitions between clips are much smoother than past efforts and his penchant for instantly recognizable rock riffs with (mostly) club songs remains compelling. It's just a shame to see Gillis' next step after two excellent albums be a step sideways and back.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Joy Formidable at Bowery Ballroom 11-16-2010

They are not YouTube sensations. They are not darlings of the indie blogosphere. But with a gigantic, cavernous sound, a simple, honest charm and earth-shaking rhythms the three members of The Joy Formidable are everything that's good about rock music.

The British trio finished their American tour at the Bowery Ballroom armed with an off-the-charts energy and enough fuzz and noise to blast the audience back to the early 90s. These tunes were more spry than their Seattle-launched predecessors, however, and grunge's melancholic shoe-gazing was replaced by a sense of euphoric revelry. The show wasn't so much a performance as a celebration and while the audience was pulled into the mass jubilation it was clear that nobody was having more fun than the three on stage. Matt Thomas, a mass of unkempt hair and flailing drumsticks, kept impossibly frenetic beats flying from his kit allowing pauses just long enough for listeners to catch their breath before diving into the next sonic whirlpool. The interplay between Rhydian Dafydd, playing the part of the enigmatic bass player, and the coy, sweet buzzsaw that was frontwoman Ritzy Bryan was adorable as the two long time friends played off of each other during and between songs. Dafydd's bass lines waltzed easily through the pillars of Bryan's gigantic riffs giving each enormously powerful song surprising agility.

While some bands construct songs through building tension and anticipation the Joy Formidable excel at creating successive and increasingly intense moments of release. They fashion moments of unbridled, unrestrained catharsis. They are a maelstrom of passion and intensity and, god, it is a blast getting lost in their storm.

They tore through most of the material from the band's mini-album A Balloon Called Moaning as well as new single "I Don't Want to See You Like This".

The group also unveiled the first single from next year's upcoming full-length Big Roar, the stark and haunting "Anemone".

The set ended with a nigh ten-minute rendition of "Whirring" that still seemed to end all too soon.

It would be easy to say The Joy Formidable are tailer made for anyone who spent the 90s listening to guitar heavy "alternative rock", or followers of the sharp guitars and sharper vocals of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Sleater-Kinney. In truth, though, the band should appeal to anyone in love with fantastic rock and roll. It's a group that grabs hold of ears and hearts and limbs forcing each into realms of purely instinctual feeling. Perhaps most amazing of all they do it with smiles plastered across their faces and a desire to share them with anyone that will listen.