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Party Animal

Girl Talk's Latest Meta Pop Throw-down

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Steven Weissman

Block Party

I was going to compose this review of Girl Talk's new album out of "samples" of other reviews—both of Girl Talk and the albums he samples on Feed the Animals. There's plenty of good source material out there—among them Jason Fine's Rolling Stone review of Aphex Twin's Richard D. James Album (from which Girl Talk mixes the synthetic strings of "Girl/Boy Song" under the vocals from Rich Boy's inescapable ride-pimping anthem "Throw Some Ds"):

For anyone raised on rock & roll, the new world of electronic music can seem like a strange and forbidding place. From trip-hop to techno, acid house to drum and bass, the myriad styles and subgenres bear names far more exotic than "punk" and "grunge," and the music doesn't play by rock's rules. Songs rarely follow verse-chorus-verse formulas, they don't often have singers, and even when you get a guitar riff, chances are, it's been sampled off an old record and distorted until it doesn't sound like a guitar anymore. But if there's no room for guitar gods in the electronic age, new heroes are emerging.

That's just begging for a comedic detournement, no?

Anyway, it's a project that will have to be undertaken by a critic with more time on his hands. Turns out, what Girl Talk does with music, no less so when applied to text, is incredibly time consuming, maybe more so than just writing something without borrowing from other sources. (Additionally, the idea may simply be more amusing than any execution; all my drafts just read like badly jumbled music criticism—there is, undoubtedly some serious skill in Girl Talk's cut and paste.)

Still, it's the sort of exercise Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) might really appreciate. As much as Feed the Animals, like last year's surprise smash Night Ripper, shows Gillis to be a studious pop-music obsessive, so, too, does the album reveal him as a student of the art, history, and politics of sampling. Some of the album's finest moments are clever little odes to that art, in which Gillis samples songs that themselves are built on samples—songs that are, often, more famous than their sources. Len's "Steal My Sunshine," for instance, is, at least for a certain generation (Gillis's), probably far more well-known than the song from which it takes its hook, Andrea True Connection's disco sex romp "More More More." (There are other less notable instances of this throughout Feed the Animals: Afrika Bambaataa's Kraftwerk-sampling "Planet Rock," Kanye West's Michael Jackson–jacking "Good Life." And who would recall, until looking it up, that the Prodigy's 1996-ruining "Firestarter" sampled the Art of Noise?)

There's also the moment where Gillis combines Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" with Jay-Z's "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)," lending a menacing anxiety to Hova's celebratory pusher anthem—when Jay thanks "most importantly, you, the customer," you can't help but feel bad if you didn't pay anything in Illegal Art's pay-what-you-want download plan (itself something of a Radiohead sample).

But maybe the funniest bit of Gillis's intellectual-property-rights commentary is when he smashes the Rubinoos' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" up against Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," a song that bore so uncanny and unlicensed a resemblance to the former that the Rubinoos sued Lavigne (and more to the point, her songwriters) for copyright infringement. (They settled out of court.) Maybe it's playing to the music-critic cheap seats, but that shit is hilarious.

Of course, if Feed the Animals were merely a referential in-joke, it wouldn't be Girl Talk. Gillis, for all his geekery (tellingly, he runs his samples not on prosumer-grade apps like Ableton Live or Fruity Loops, but on the hardcore nerd programming platform Max/MSP), aims for nothing so much as mass pleasure-center stimulation. Listening to Feed the Animals is, in a way, exhausting. You break your neck trying to trainspot everything. You can't keep up with the beat. But it's fun to try.

It's not entirely without fault, though, and there are two moments in particular that leave me wanting literally more from a song. The first is that blend of "Girl/Boy" song with Rich Boy; Gillis samples just the swelling and plucked strings, never letting the song break into Aphex Twin's frenetic drum machine splattering beat. Similarly, he later brings in the ambient intro of Born Slippy's lager-spilling Trainspotting anthem "Born Slipp (Nuxx)" without ever letting its fist-pumping beat drop. Such omissions, for fans of the originals, can feel criminal and cause you to go running right to your CD rack for the source. Still, these are minor complaints, and more than anything, you can't wait to hear him pull these combinations off live. Maybe he'll even let those beats drop. recommended


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