Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Strange It Is to Be Anything at All: A Discussion of Musical Morality and the Mashup Genre as a Societal Barometer



In general, I try my best to stay off my high horse when it comes to my musical opinions and tastes. Listeners have their own concepts of what music should be, and I respect that, despite any disagreements I may have in terms of subjective preference. However, there come instances in which the music lover in me cannot sleep soundly without expressing my qualms. This is one of those instances.

The mashup genre as we know it today can be traced back to Greg Gillis—or, as he's more popularly known, Girl Talk. Sure, there were records like Since I Left You and The Grey Album and Endtroducing... that are all several years Feed the Animals' senior. Hell, the genre is even indebted to musique concrete of the mid-twentieth century. But when somebody describes something as being a "mashup," the archetype that's been constructed in our heads is one of popular songs meshed together with a hip hop bass line and I-buy-my-shirts-at-Target ironic song titles. It's DJ Earworm's annual "United State of Pop." It's The White Panda's "Throw Some Tik on that Tok." It's Super Mash Bros' "Boom Boom Pau." It's any acne-faced computer geek with GarageBand, a YouTube account, and a dream. Now, this is not to say that just because the mashup genre happens to be DIY-friendly that it is inherently illegitimate. After all, never before has music technology and knowledge in general been as readily accessible as it is right now—what with Internet in our computers and phones, mp3s an informed Google search away, and tutorials on how to do everything from tying a tie to boiling an alligator head all at our fingertips. In a way, it's the modern-day equivalent of recreating a popular Tin Pan Alley song after dinner on the nineteenth century middle-class family's piano.

Allow me to reiterate: I have no beef with the mashup genre, nor do I have a problem with its gentle learning curve. Where my blood pressure starts getting raised, though, is when unwritten rules of popular music are broken. I'm not talking about music theory or the marriage of unlikely songs or even the aesthetics of the often-shoddy production jobs; I'm talking about the unacceptable pairings of bona fide masterpieces of pop with half-assed, got-drunk-in-the-studio-and-threw-on-AutoTune drivel. In other words, pairings that defy the will of the musical deities that be and disregard the spiritual capacity of music (and there is one, mind you)...

Torpeedoh has committed one of these mortal sins with "Get Loose," from his Girl Talk-aspiring Buckwild (that ultimately just lands him in the land of Gillis wannabes along with E-603 and Easter Egg). The track begins unassumingly and expectedly enough with an adrenaline-rousing Blur, Tag Team, and UNK musical stew, ebbing and flowing in intensity along with Albarn's 'woo hoo' and Coxon's massive guitar riff. At 1:28, however, the song falters and satisfies our society's perpetual musical ADD by leaving the trio of samples behind and instead opting for the duo of Drake's "Best I Ever Had" and... Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane over the Sea"?!?!

Some background: I first heard this track on Friday night at a college party. It was replete with the mainstays you might expect at such a gathering, including plenty of alcohol. The experience I'm about to describe to you I wouldn't wish on anyone. Hearing two dozen drunk girls chanting "you da fuckin' best" over Jeff Mangum's magnum opus of magnum opuses with their arms in the air in that way only drunk girls do was legitimately saddening. That enchantingly simple four-chord progression that serves as a backdrop to quite possibly the most perfect three minutes and twenty-two seconds of pop music in the past two decades. That musical canvas Mangum paints with his unrefined, yet heart-achingly beautiful voice. Those lyrics Mangum penned in a Romantic outpouring of emotion after the diary of Anne Frank haunted his dreams... All of it defiled by a corporate puppet who used to play this guy on Degrassi.

Perhaps worst of all is that less than a minute later (2:24), the agony is over, and Journey's ubiquitous "Don't Stop Believin'" keyboard riff exchanges duties for instrumental backup to Drake's annoying croon. Just like that. I'm not sure if you've ever listened to In the Aeroplane over the Sea, but it's fucking emotionally draining. I have to clear out time in my day if I want to listen to that record because every single song touches me at my core. Even listening to just one song requires at least five minutes of quiet reflection afterward. This shit is heavy. Torpeedoh blots out Neutral Milk Hotel's candid emotionalism and substitutes Drake's hedonism and self-indulgence in its place.

So what?

Call me a cynic. Call me a snob. Tell me I'm overreacting. Tell me that there are much more important things to worry about, that there are bigger fish to fry. You're more than welcome to do so. But when I hear music of this caliber—a form of art, I'd say—that has been treated in this manner, I can't help but feel a little upset, as it reflects not only a decline in general music appreciation, but more importantly and alarmingly, it is a sign of society's appraisal of sensation over substance, of "feelin' for a fix" rather than "lay[ing] in the sun and count[ing] every beautiful thing we can see."

Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane over the Sea [alt]
Torpeedoh: Get Loose [alt]

12 comments:

Steven Hummel said...

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is a work in progress. I have more things to say and more points to make, but I will leave those for another day. Until then, please feel free to voice your opinions here...

Jewsindaclub said...

I feel that your opinion is Valid, you must open you ears and mind to all of the musical opprtunities. I feel that you have a grasp of music that is less common today, but you need to understand that the freedom of expression is just another thing that has many results and not everyone will enjoy the outcome.

Torpeedoh said...

When I was making that album, I remember thinking to myself "this is going to piss some people off". And to this day I still love listening to it.
I hope you don't listen to anything I've ever made seriously, take it (and any other piece of 'music' I've made) with a grain of salt. Especially that older stuff.

Give a listen to some more recent stuff I've made, because I definitely pegged myself as 'another GT wannabe' after Buckwild, and I've been making a point to do things my own way since then. You might actually like some of it (if you don't mind me shitting all over your favorite artists, that is).

-Zach

Steven Hummel said...

Zach,

I'm glad you didn't take any of my commentary personally. I hope it didn't come off as an attack to you because that was certainly not the intention. I guess a significant amount of my disappointment lies in the fact that NMH's /Aeroplane/ is one of my favorite albums of all time, mainly because of the emotional attachment I have to it. Thus, like I stated in the post, when there's a bunch of wasted college girls blurting out nonsense over a song from an album that changed my perception of music, I just get a little bent out of shape.

That said, I recognize the mashup genre as party music, and party music is supposed to make people dance, sing, and have a good time--three attributes your music accomplishes quite well. I suppose the thing that doesn't allow me to pigeonhole the mashup genre into the same arena as techno/dance/electro--genres with similar intentions--is the fact that it takes liberties with pieces of music that have already carved out certain meanings and associations for me. Usually I am able to forget about it, but NMH just hit home.

I'm not trying to be an instigator or melodramatic; music just genuinely means that much to me.

Again, please forgive me if I came off a bit to strong toward you personally, Zach. I think what you're doing is great; in fact, I'm learning my way around Logic Pro myself right now, so hopefully I'll be producing material that some know-it-all douche on a no-name blog bitches about someday... ;-)

Torpeedoh said...

Yeah dude, didn't take it personally. I figured that Aeroplane was just one of your favorite albums. I'd probably feel the same way if somebody put Justin Bieber over something from 'The Bends' (please don't do this anyone reading).

Steven Hummel said...

Yeah, umm, NMH is one thing... You pull that shit on Radiohead, and I find out where you live, hunt you down, and make sure you never make another mashup ever again. Hell, I skip over "Set It Off" every single time I spin /Feed the Animals/ because I refuse to listen to "Paranoid Android" in any other form than one performed by Thom, Jonny, Ed, Colin, and Phil. That said, I must give Greg Gillis props for using the "15 Step" break in "Still Here" because it just punctuates that Blackstreet/Kanye mash...

As a general rule, though, if someone fucks with Radiohead, they fuck with me...

Torpeedoh said...

Shit i sampled Reckoner on Buckwild.

Steven Hummel said...

Don't tell me that. We had just buried the hatchet, dude.

sean said...

Good stuff, but I think that Uneasy Listening (Z-trip & DJ P) is thought of by most DJs and fans of the style as the beginning of mashup. Not trying to be contrary, it's an unimportant milestone I think, but for the sake of accuracy....

Cal said...

I agree that the drake/nmh mix is really weak, but I think an important thing to realize is that these mashups have the ability to introduce people to music they have not heard before.

and I agree, In the aeroplane over the sea is an amazing album, its beautiful.

Maybe rather than just criticizing the mashup song/genre, you can dig out the sample you liked and just write about how awesome the original is? ie. Know your mashup?

I'd love to read more posts about bands like NMH which it seems you have a good taste for.

Anonymous said...

Hah... you should enjoy this:
http://www.onesevensevensix.com/amplive/index.html

Anonymous said...

(Download link there is broken. If you want to actually listen to it, just google it.)

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