Girl Talk | All Day (s/r)

Somehow, he has used the most banal artistic methods to produce works that are, quite honestly, shallow but immensely thrilling. And yes, at points he finds the sublime.

I haven’t listened to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in ten years. Girl Talk’s new album, All Day, begins with a few seconds of silence, then the eerie high hat and guitar feedback leading up to the first crush of power chords from one of hard rock’s dark staples. Before Ozzy can begin his “Witches gather,” a different, hip-hopish beat hits like a short ellipsis. Jay-Z yells “Hit me,” followed by some hand clapping, Ozzy and Ludacris share the leads (“get out the way bitch”/”in the fields the bodies burning”). The track goes silent, then Ozzy comes in: “Poisoning their brainwashed minds, oh lord yeah!” Ludacris and Mystikal take over, with “War Pigs” (and various other beats) backing, and, lacking a more eloquent term, it’s on.
If you’ve never heard Girl Talk proper, you’ve never been far away. On first listen, you will feel like a lifelong fan. The reason is that what constitutes Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) has been done and heard already. Most good DJs do what he does; they just don’t do it nearly as well. Gillis is one of our finest postmodern artists trying his best to front as the Everyman DJ; but that’s like William T. Vollmann trying to pass as John Grisham. His method is appropriation: he takes others’ art, and in true postmodern form, reworks and revisits it to fit into the contemporary consciousness. While most contemporary artists would scoff at the idea of sniffing anything sublime, Gillis uses their methods to achieve it. Somehow, he has used the most banal artistic methods to produce works that are, quite honestly, shallow but immensely thrilling. And yes, at points he finds the sublime.
Gregg Gillis is not an artistic genius. He is a social genius. No other record can bring more divergent groups of people to the dance floor than his 2008 masterpiece Feed The Animals. It’s a party album straight up, but it’s also like ecstasy for music snobs. There’s enough pop-infused hip-hop and dope beats to keep anyone dancing for two straight hours. But Gillis also incorporates an encyclopedic database of music that that will keep the most ardent music nerd enthralled for the length of the record. Jay-Z, Ludacris, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Wayne, Beyonce—they are his fallbacks; they keep the party going. Radiohead, the Pixies, Fugazi, Of Montreal, Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and the Beastie Boys—they are there to keep the music snobs riveted. And then there’s Belinda Carslile, T’pau, Nu Shuz, Big Country, Tag Team, The Toadies, Miley Cyrus, Ace of Base and a whole host of others that will just make you laugh—if it weren’t so goddamned intoxicating.
All Day offers plenty of horrifically fun mashups. The aforementioned Black Sabbath/Jay Z/Ludacris is a massive party starter. “This is the Remix” begins by squeezing your heart with Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” then proceeds to embarrass you by making you realize how much you actually do like the Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom.” The whole track is, frankly, mind blowing—it will be impossible to find a better dance track in 2011. However, the most brilliant moment on this record occurs three fourths of the way through “Make Me Wanna.” Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” lays the ethereal, nearly angelic backing while Birdman and Lil’ Wayne shoe gaze with “Money to Blow.” Gillis uses utilitarian appropriation here to reach the sublime—it’s as if Francis Bacon created his second Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion with free Crayolas. It’s in instances like this that Gillis practices his subversion, but it’s a playful sort, and one that will keep the other postmodern artists scoffing (but a bit uneasily now).
Gillis has been embroiled in legal issues because of his, um, liberal appropriation. There is not one note of original music on any of his albums. Which raises the question (and this is when he transcends the role of pop music maker and becomes an artist proper) “can you please try and define the term ‘original art’?” Gillis likens what he does to someone strumming the chords to a Beatles song, then plugging the chord into a distortion pedal and changing the progression—ergo a new song (and 80% of pop rock since.) But you can tell that, deep down, he really just doesn’t care—that’s part of Girl Talk’s allure. All Day is completely free to customers, and he pays no royalties.
Girl Talk democratizes art by demanding that we take it less seriously, that we have fun with it, that we get sweaty as hell dancing to it. It’s impossible not to love a Girl Talk record. While Gillis himself prefers to be soft spoken and polite (he struggles with his celebrity) he can’t help being the most popular guy at any party. That’s because if he’s there, everyone’s dancing to his music. While All Day isn’t quite as good as Feed the Animals, it is still a dazzling artistic achievement. It’s also an exponentially better experience than you could ever get from your average club DJ—even when played on your computer at work on a Monday. A- | Braden Abbott
RIYL: Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys

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