Girl Talk: One Trick Pony, or 21st Century Steinski?
By Ian Cohen
If you’re the kind of poor soul who watches the workday tick away at places like ilxor.com, June has been Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Tet and the Feast of Maximum Occupancy all rolled into one. Not only have we experienced the leaks of Tha Carter III and Deerhunter’s surprisingly great Microcastle, but this past week, Feed The Animals popped up with a blank price tag courtesy of Girl Talk (Greg Gillis), who might even top those other dudes…at least in how it’s way easier to talk about him than to actually listen to his music. And this is mostly because he left the door open for a “Got Money”/“Strange Lights” Lil Wayne/Deerhunter mash-up that would cause the internet to collapse on itself.
Feed The Animals functions more as a think-piece despite being the same dumb-the-fuck out muesli of upper-crust rock and lowest-common-denominator pop-rap, which makes you wonder whether Greg Gillis is a genius, complete hack or someone in between who has become a victim of his own success. As with his previous Night Ripper, the delight upon hearing all this stuff for the first time is undeniable, but once that record started showing up on year-end lists, it advanced past “fun” into “but is it art?” and as such put him up against “album”-type sample innovators like Avalanches, DJ Shadow and Steinski, guys who Gillis just can’t compete with (even if he’s trying to). The evidence is in how Feed The Animals manages to be one of the most audacious records of the year, but not because it fundamentally alters Girl Talk’s DNA. Rather, because Gillis got accused of being a one-trick pony only to come out this time trying to better himself by doing the same exact trick.
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To his credit, there aren’t as many tin-eared clashes as there were on Night Ripper, though it’s hard not to see the layering of “Lip Gloss” over Metallica’s “One” or “Roc Boys”/“Paranoid Android” as some sort of bid for OMG RAP INDIE LOLZ. Certainly, it’s beyond mere random sampling, but too often, Gillis goes the Family Guy route, looking to maximize wackiness as opposed to building something worth revisiting. More to the point, the initial thrill of hearing all of these songs you love (“No Diggity”! “Flashing Lights”! “15 Step”! All at the same time!) initially gets subsumed by Gillis’ insistent mashing of joy buzzers - ironically, this decidedly non-rockist approach results in one of the more “album”-like experiences of the year. There’s absolutely no entry point or exit, no separable tidbit, and no dynamics - how is this going to inspire dancing when it changes on you every ten seconds? And as such, after twenty minutes, even the most hardened audiophile’s brain will melt into a mere to-do list for the next iTunes binge.
Which unfortunately is making Gillis’ potentially groundbreaking approach into something more pernicious, and I’m not even touching how this is going to get his ass sued into the stone age. Once it leaves the hard drive, he has no control over who it gets identified with, and unfortunately, it’s specifically built for some of the worst kind of music listeners, those who co-opt typically “fun” pop culture for the same ol’ indie elitist bullshit. You know the drill: that douche at Pehrspace who’s hoping they play Juelz Santana during set breaks and freaking out because three other people are wearing the same New York Rangers hat from 1992. The music critic who’s so satisfied he’s able to project his own highbrow wishes (gosh, Missy Elliott sounded so…dark over Joy Division!) onto mix ‘n’ matches that manage to degrade every song involved.
Cultural lodestone? Of course not, but Feed The Animals does attain a sort of semi-dangerous fun usually achieved by cocaine from a reliable source - it’s a great temporary high and when other people are on it, shit’s like the best party ever. Just know they’re only thinking about themselves.
(Girl Talk's summer/fall tour arrives at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre on October 24 and 25.)