N.A.S.A.: The Big Bang

RIYL: Gorillaz, Afrika Bambaataa, The Neptunes

N.A.S.A.’s 2009 debut, The Spirit of Apollo, was one of the freshest, most creative hip-hop records to come out in years, a high-proof blend of booty-shaking beats (courtesy of partners DJ Zegon and Sam Spiegel), dizzying rhymes (from an astounding list of guest MCs that included Kanye West, Chuck D, Chali 2na, Gift of Gab, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien), and sharp pop hooks (with help from guests like David Byrne, Tom Waits, Lykke Li, Karen O, Santigold, M.I.A., and George Clinton). Those are some stuffed parentheses, but they only touch the surface of what Apollo has to offer; in the post-mashup era, it illuminates the fertile possibilities of cross-pollination and a healthy disregard for genre boundaries.

It’s therefore unsurprising – though still disappointing – that N.A.S.A.’s follow-up represents such a substantial comedown. The Big Bang is a remix project, and as such, it presented all kinds of strong possibilities; after all, we’re talking about a subgenre whose best-selling titles include Bobby Brown’s Dance!…Ya Know It! and Paula Abdul’s Shut Up and Dance, so the bar is set pretty low. Unfortunately, although The Big Bang is every bit as danceable as anyone could hope, it’s crippled by a narrow focus: Rather than remixing all (or even most) of Apollo, Bang‘s 17 tracks include four versions of “Gifted” and three of “Whachadoin?” – and it completely skips some of Apollo‘s strongest songs, like the David Byrne/Chali 2na/Gift of Gab collision “The People Tree.”

Still, it’s worth noting that all the songs being remixed here are solid; if you’re going to chew up most of an album with different versions of the same stuff, it’s definitely better to start with strong raw material. And of the two new tracks, the Maximum Hedrum/Barbie Hatch collaboration “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” with its breathy vocals and Tom Tom Club synths, is nearly worth the price of admission by itself. During the lead-up to The Big Bang‘s release, Squeak E. Clean has been in Ethiopia, recording traditional music for the next N.A.S.A. project, which suggests that even if this curious piece of between-album project represents a creative lull, they haven’t run out of barriers to ignore. (Spectrophonic Sound 2010)

N.A.S.A. MySpace page


Watch: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – “Please Don’t” (feat. Santigold)

On April 6, Todomundo/Nonesuch Records will release Here Lies Love, the new Imelda Marcos concept album by veteran musicians David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Six videos have been created for the project, all which will be included on the deluxe edition of the album.


Various Artists: Twenty First Century Twenty First Year

It may have seemed like just another example of dilettantism from a major star during the late ‘80s – a time when Amnesty International tours were all the rage and the Top 40 was stuffed with globetrotting music from Sting, Paul Simon, and Peter Gabriel – but 21 years later, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop is not only still around, it’s an inspirational example for anyone hoping to establish a boutique label. Known primarily as an outlet for releases from Byrne-approved “world music” artists like Zap Mama, Luaka Bop has actually been a more eclectic imprint than most people have given it credit for, something highlighted in the label’s new anniversary compilation, Twenty First Century Twenty First Year. You get the expected stuff – like Byrne’s tastes, the set skews toward South American and Afro-Caribbean grooves, offering booty-shaking cuts from Moreno +2, and Los Amigos Invisibles and some fine Shuggie Otis – but Twenty First is also careful to remind you that the label has provided a home for artists as diverse as Geggy Tah and Jim White. It all adds up to a solid hour of eclectic music that, like the label itself, is more interested in showing you a good time than proving how hip it is. And it succeeds, too – with the exception of Geggy Tah’s “Whoever You Are,” which should be locked in a lead-lined vault and fired into space, these tracks will make a fine addition to your next barbecue playlist, and it’s a fine introduction to the label in the bargain. (Luaka Bop 2009)

Luaka Bop MySpace page


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