Girl Talk Feed the Animals

[Illegal Art; 2008]

Styles: mashup, dance
Others: Kid 606, Fatboy Slim, The Avalanches

Each time I finish indulging the frantic dance party incited by Girl Talk’s (Gregg Gillis) new album, Feed the Animals (as well as its predecessor, Night Ripper), I’m compelled to think about popular music itself: the hooks in its melodies, the relevance in its lyrics, the mustering in its beats. Popular music, as I’d define it -- rock, hip-hop, indie-rock, R&B, top-40, “pop,” anything that makes us tap our toes -- is a massive cultural force that is able to accompany no less than everything we do. Consider its ubiquity: parties, video games, car windows, film soundtracks, television programs, television commercials, football stadiums, elevators, exercise rooms -- my coworker softly listens to commercial pop radio all day long in the next cubicle. You’d think that such prevalence would lead to inundation and ultimately boredom. Yet for most of us, the opposite is true: listening to music only enhances our quest for more. And despite our greed in this vain, our culture aids us in this endeavor, preserving and nurturing music to the point where we continuously play it in our minds.

It’s in this sense that, despite its great fun, Feed the Animals is both a collage and a composition of popular music. It’s culled from fragments of songs, the best fragments of songs, on Gillis’ laptop, where he layers together a seemingly endless horde of disparate musical styles (giving us Ice Cube, Procul Harum, Yo La Tengo, LL Cool J, Pete Townsend, The Police, Busta Rhymes, and The Velvet Underground on a single album). Gillis’ great talent lies in garnering all of the juxtaposition that one would expect from such a description and melding it into something that comes dangerously close to homogeneity. He demonstrates that, despite the frankness of hip-hop, the twinkle of pop, and the angularity of rock, music is music and that all of it shares more traits than it shirks. Girl Talk’s knack for uncovering the emotive quality in songs, to capture it more profoundly or to entirely transform it from its source, causes Feed the Animals to have an intrigue (a re-contextualized sonic museum) that’s entirely separate from its function (dance). Therefore, regardless of which approach you take when listening to it, you’ll find the seamless relationship between preservation and vitality.

Aside from these conceptual assertions that it evokes, Feed the Animals is a good record. Though it’s broken up into 14 tracks, it functions best (and as Girl Talk intends) as a single 53-minute mashup. Like Night Ripper, the chief formula at work is hip-hop vocal and beat tracks laid beside pop-rock melodies. The only real difference is that with Feed Gillis digs deeper into popular music’s past, extracting organ hoots from 1960s psyche-rock and backing choirs from Motown. Being an obvious sequel to Night Ripper, Feed lacks the element of surprise, such that the album’s triumphs and missteps happen as a result of merit and not novelty. For their part, the album’s triumphs are too many to count, as it spews an endless palate of high-energy and engrossing musical combinations (the blast of “Lithium” is particularly rousing), many of which you’ll nod your head to and smile at upon recognition. Also like Night Ripper, Gillis is able to turn dance music on its head, transforming a genre that’s so completely based in rhythm and repetition and creating 15-45-second bursts of song that seep into another and then another.

Feed the Animals does, however, lack a certain flow that its predecessor possessed, yielding occasional moments of hesitation between some of the mixes. And other mixes feel lackluster and uncommitted, like the unadorned entrance of The Jackson 5’s “ABC,” which seems to rise emptily out of a beat cycle. Still, released here at the entrance of summer, Girl Talk will undoubtedly once again enthrall its listeners with Feed the Animals -- and not just because it’s fun, but because it uses music that, at some point, has wormed its way into all of our lives. And then when we finally stop dancing, perhaps we’ll realize that Gregg Gillis is the music fan, the DJ, the record collector, the composer of popular music that all of us esteem to be.

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