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Monday, November 15, 2004
There are a lot of things I like about Diplo & M.I.A.'s Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, and probably more to come, as I've only listened to it twice. But here's what I've got so far.
- There's no intro. It just drops you directly in with two different mixes of "Galang," like you've wandered into a club at an early peak of the set, which "Galang" would be in almost anyone's mix. The flow is effortless and unselfconscious, going from one bit to another without calling attention to the transitions but without feeling like an epic megamix, either. This is simply how the music should go, it feels like; there's no intro or outro necessary because there's no need for contextualization. It is so of the moment that it's simply a transition from your everyday life, from the sounds around you to the sounds being directed deliberately into your ears.
- There aren't any skits. Even the one track labeled as a skit isn't actually a skit, it's just the closest this mix gets to one; everything is a song because there are no breaks, there's no need to stop dancing, and the music reflects this by sounding both laid-back and hard, relaxed enough so you don't get worn out but giving you the energy to keep going just in case. It's an evocation of a perfect kind of high. (There are others, of course--c.f. rave and speed metal--but this is another one, a different one.)
- There's a "Walk Like an Egyptian" mashup. This was where it really won me over, in no small part because there's also one on probably my favorite mashup album, Kid606's The Action Packed Mentalist Brings You The Fucking Jams. The Bangles remix in particular is notably better here than on the Kid's effort; the context he used it in was the key there, but here, it's just straight-up brilliant, sliding it effortlessly (again!) into a hottt dancehall beat. It seems to focus, almost unconsciously, on the line "all the kids in the marketplace." It's not an ironic gesture, or, rather, it's more than an ironic or funny gesture (because lord knows I love those)--it's making this song better.
- She makes the goddamn "Goodies" hook not annoying. Unlike a lot of people, I find the repeated use of this otherwise-good octave riff in the original Ciara track maddening. But M.I.A.'s vocals distract me, call my attention away from the drone, and then you realize she's singing about being held hostage in the Amazon. Except it's also about hooking up with someone but feeling sorta trapped and sorta guilty, and the wet smell falls across both. And she's worried about getting detention. And then you realize that this riff was also used in a Missy song, and the track here follows a different Missy song. And then you remember that in the track before that, the Bangles mashup, this noise also appeared, in a modified form. And you start to understand why this is all sounding so good. It's perfectly detailed.
- The Clipse track that follows it. And then it ambles into a Clipse remix that's hushed and nocturnal, like the old meaning of jungle, sparse, muted percussion, and a heavily reverbed synth line. It's the opposite of crunk, like someone snuck into the Neptunes' studio while they were sleeping and made a track quiet enough not to wake them. Plus, the Clipse have their own Goodies mashup. And this brings it forward one more.
- The bootlegs aren't bootlegs. Generally, mashups are either digested as one-at-a-time MP3s, where, isolated, they can often seem half-assed and gimmicky; or in the context of an album, and in particular on an album like this, centering around an artist with notoriously few finished tracks, they could seem like filler. But they don't, somehow; they seem like perfectly natural transitions, exactly what you'd want, and almost equally as good as the M.I.A.-native tracks--and don't forget, again, that the mix started off with an M.I.A. track, setting the tone for the whole thing very effectively. If you don't pay attention, there's no differentiation, and that's an amazing thing.
- "POP." Which, not surprisingly, my Media Player auto-generated playlist (which, very surprisingly, pops right up) puts ALL IN CAPS like certain other folks do when using that most sacred of words. Because it's important, and in a way, it's the ultimate subject being addressed here. But confusingly, it's probably the least poppy M.I.A. song yet, consisting almost solely of a slow-moving, squawky distorted synth-bass line and near-screwed drums, all plodding along behind nimble vocals. But the vocals are fantastic. This is one of those things I'm going to need to return to[2.1], but the thing that's most grabbing here is the way the sort of triumphalist language that feels tired now is being specifically used in the context of pop culture, in the need to invade that and take it over, and not only that, but it's an affirmation of the undeniable ability to do that, while not necessarily downplaying the difficulties ("It's rough in here / but it's rougher out there."). There's none of the "my stuff wouldn't ever get played on the radio anyway, maaaan" crap we're used to hearing; it's just "try somethin' new cause it ain't over." The second verse in particular here is just killer, and in contrast to the somewhat insistent tone of the rest of the mix, this one song demands, and rewards, closer attention. The whole midsection here of M.I.A. originals, tracks 10-13, is great, and this isn't even getting into the fucked-up mix of "Sunshowers," especially the bit around 1:20 where a drums-and-vocal section ends with the totally illogical but totally effective inclusion of metal guitars, and then a slide into the wavering, pitch-shifted chorus vocals[2.2]. Man. And then when the regular chorus vocals drop in after that, it's even better, somehow.
- The horn-centric chorus of "Bucky Done Gum." Not much else to say, really. You expect it to go somewhere and then it just goes twelve different places. And then it continues under the verse! Awesome.
- The ending. Matthew's already mentioned this, but the one-two punch of "U R A Q T" to "Bingo," i.e. "the Big Pimpin masup," is killer enough to dwell on a little bit more. "URAQT" seems like one of those songs that takes something that wouldn't seem poppy at all and makes it into a total top-40 trope. (See: tablas, "Get Ur Freak On.") I don't know what the hell is playing the hook here, but it's just totally unexplainably fantastic, old-fashioned but groovy and right. And then, of course, the bit where she starts sing-speaking the title, in a melody that pretty much no one but M.I.A. herself could have pulled out of this beat, is just lovely. And then, of course, what to follow up with but her doing her thing over the looped "Big Pimpin" beat, with not much even added except for some totally inexplicable sound FX, but what she does with it is awe-inspiring, particularly the chorus, but also definitely the unexpected, totally distinctive "h-h-h-holla" chant that comes up in the middle, and of course the "do you know how this beat is made?" line. And then they let the beat ride for a while, and a computer voice says "M...I..A" and we're done, with a sense of nonstop goodness that you just don't get very much. Just mind-bogglingly excellent.
 This mix rivals that album for that title, as well as "best title for a mashup album."
[2.1] In part because I can't make out the lyrics entirely, mainly because I haven't given it a headphones listening yet--and it's rare that I like an album these days without giving it a headphones listening. So if anyone has lyrics, that would be very helpful.
[2.2] Which are themselves a reference to the original, where an octave-up version of those vocals appears under the second verse. Here, though, they're wavering, sliding in and out of key.
 As it's never put, but writing it this way makes the meaning clearer.