Posts Tagged 'Danger Mouse'

Lawrence Lessig, The Colbert Remixes and Where We Go From Here

Early in January, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert sat down with Lawrence Lessig. The interview was typical Colbert tongue-in-cheek, but good for a laugh. For those of you not closely following the implosion of the music industry and subsequent recreation as a more inclusive forum, Lessig is the author of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, a book that examines methods of creating revenue out of creative work. The example Lessig used while talking to Colbert was Flickr which allows users to post pictures which Flickr can then create revenue from. But Lessig’s primary argument is that the war on Peer-to-Peer file sharing has failed (he’ll get no argument here) and that the copyright laws are outdated with the vast number of increasing ways people can share, remix and alter original work while making something new. In a way, every blog does this. This post in itself is a remix of two interviews, the functions of two websites and my arrangement of these facts with my thoughts. It’s about as close as I come to making music. The DIY explosion in music is part of the culture that has helped spawn mash-ups like Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (The Beatles’ White Album/Jay-Z’s Black Album) and AmpLive’s Rainydayz Remixes (AmpLive remixing Radiohead‘s In Rainbows.) The point is that technology and the rapidly evolving music industry need to find common ground with artists, and not just other musicians, but all artists, as the mixed media medium is something that can only grow from here.

Well, when Colbert was very specific about becoming “possibly litigious” should anyone take portions of his interview and remix it with a dance beat, he had to do so knowing full-well that someone would. He wasn’t disappointed as two days later, internet upstart IndabaMusic jumped into the fray with a full site devoted to remixing the Colbert/Lessig interview. But it didn’t end there, did it? With Colbert, how could it? Never being one to avoid an opportunity to poke fun at himself, Colbert remixed a video of his own work to a pulsing dance beat, and told the remixers to lay off again, to of course encourage them to remix more. Enter Dan Zaccagnino, head of Indaba who had an interview on Colbert the other night (interview at 14m in) to talk about the remix culture. Of course, these types of remixes are nothing new over at MixMatchMusic, which has had success with their Remix Wizard. While the Indaba/Colbert remix contest is excellent, it is Indaba based. MMM’s Remix Wizard is a free widget that can be set up and used by any artist on their website to host remix promotions. It doesn’t even need to have anything to do with music, as evidenced by Remix Sarah Palin.

While Colbert’s thoughts in the interviews with Lessig and Zaccagnino are clearly meant to be humorous, they serve a larger purpose in that these episodes help create buzz for a rapidly growing and increasingly important segment of the music industry: collaborative pieces brought about through alternative means. Indaba has managed to create a large community of musicians from around the world who are engaging in internet based musical collaboration, and this is a huge first step in breaking down barriers within the recording industry.

But with every broken barrier comes the question of the next frontier. While Colbert asked Zaccagnino what happens to girlfriends breaking up bands if the musicians collaborate on the internet, he failed in his attempts at humor to get to the root of the issue, namely monetization of content. While not many musicians will actively think internet collaboration as a means to avoid break-ups with their significant others, a most serious topic of interest to them is how they can profit from their work. No artist likes the idea of losing control over their work, but if knowing that the usage of their work by others would create tangible income for them, the concept of collaboration and other artists who liked them enough to mix them with their own pieces becomes a much more appealing, and therefore widespread trend. As with the foresight of their DIY remix widgets, MixMatchMusic provides the ability for artists to monetize collaboratively made songs, as well as contribute stems to their social sample library to earn royalties.

The monetization of artist work and internet collaboration is the next step in the rebuilding of the music industry. As fans become more involved with the artists because they are part of a shared internet workspace, the desire to support an artist will increase. Add to that the ability to remix their favorite artist’s work, and the fan interaction with the music becomes uncaged. Forget making a mixtape for a friend. Imagine taking your favorite songs and going Girl Talk on them. This interest and desire to support the artist would in turn funnel revenue back to the musicians.

The recording industry would say that this has been the goal of their war on file sharing, but that is an outrageous lie as most artists never see a dime of the few settlements the RIAA succeeds in obtaining. Little wonder then that the RIAA is backing down. In fact, one could argue that the backlash against the recording industry has been fueled by the consumer perspective that the artists aren’t seeing the profits they should. Furthermore, as revenue streams move away from the major labels and into the artists’ pockets, the majors will be forced to work with both musicians and consumers on more viable distribution and revenue models.

But forget about the money and the labels and the upheaval in the industry. How will this help music evolve? As more artists turn to internet collaboration because their work is safe and profitable, the inevitable evolution of genres and musical landscapes will grow exponentially. Think The Beatles and Jay-Z were cool? What happens when you can take a French hip-hopper’s lyrics, a tribal drum beat from a musician in Africa, a flute melody from Tokyo and a guitar piece from Columbus, Ohio, and add it to your piano piece from the comfort of your home and computer? Sure, you could make money, but look at what your collaboration has created musically. When internet collaboration is monetized and all-inclusive, the community becomes the music industry, and the listeners become the musicians.

The Odd Couple

the Odd Couple Cover ArtIn 2006, St. Elsewhere, an album of collaboration between producer Danger Mouse (The Grey Album, Ghetto Pop Life) and rapper Cee-Lo Green (…is the Soul Machine) dropped and instantaneously brought a variety of new mixmatched sounds to the hip-hop industry. The album covered Funk, Soul, R&B, Hip-Hop, Lounge and Electro in equal parts, never hesitating to throw them together and see what came out. This excellent album was an instant hit and spawned the ridiculously popular “Crazy” which began popping up anywhere you could find music. Following the success of the album, the DJ Sound Advice put his own re-mix spin on the tracks by releasing, for free download, Gnarls Biggie, an album comprised of mash-ups between Gnarls Barkley tracks and Notorious B.I.G. vocal tracks. Yesterday, weeks ahead of the scheduled April release date, St. Elsewhere officially became the freshman offering from Gnarls Barkley as they released their sophomore album, The Odd Couple.

Clocking in at 13 tracks and a brief 39 minutes, The Odd Couple finds Danger and Cee-Lo picking up right where their off-beat and stylistically vibrant and diverse St. Elsewhere left off. “Charity Case” opens the album with the funk baseline and oldies feel made popular by Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya.” The female backing vocals and bell chimes help keep Cee-Lo grounded in the track, and the moving rhythm and hand claps help the head keep nodding. Two days ago, when I watched the season finale of AMC‘s show Breaking Bad, I thought the song they ended the episode to was a fantastic one. It was haunting, mixing a Western and Soul feel with slow and emotionally infused lyrics reminiscent of Bill Withers vocals. Now imagine my surprise when I get to track two and that song turns out to be “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.”

“Going On” refreshes the upbeat and clap-happy sounds of the first album, bringing about the feeling that a few more “Crazy”-like songs aren’t too far away. Cee-Lo works over organ samples and a beating drum tempo before Danger Mouse turns the last minute into a atmospheric piece of a more sinister nature complete with fuzzed out electronic influence. Track 4 brings out “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)”, the first single from the album. The single makes it clear that Gnarls is going to try to capitalize on the retro-as-new feeling that made “Crazy” and “Smiley Faces” so popular. The song kicks off with a moving shout and response chorus of sampled children’s voices that breaks up into Cee-Lo’s manically paced lyrics. Once again, Danger’s production skills take over the last minute of the song as he starts mixing more of Cee-Lo’s singing over the party sound he’s created with the clapping and instrumentation.

The raw emotional happiness of “Run” gives way quickly to a much more somber and dark “Would Be Killer.” Here, Cee-Lo moves slowly over a beat laced with background ambient sounds and record slips which help the entire song feel a bit like vinyl being played backwards on an old 45. He fluctuates into higher ranges in certain parts, yet never feels out of place, which continues to be one of the most surprising and reliable portions of his music…even when he takes his vocals to an extreme, it never feels lost or out of place. “Open Book” kicks off with a frenetic and off-syncopated beat complete with bird sounds and strings in the background. The chorus for this song devolves considerably with Cee-Lo’s screaming tone pushed to the background of the music as a more wall of sound approach engulfs the track. Here though, it feels less like the two are having a good time with the music as it does on other tracks, and a bit more forced, as if they’re getting intentionally darker just to see what it feels like. For this reason, it’s a relief when the more playful Barkley re-emerges on “Whatever,” a track that reminds me of the “Liar Liar” remix in the card scene from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The slower beat provides a nice contrast to some of the previous songs, and the use of Cee-Lo as the chorus vocals show that sometimes things can be intentionally ugly and still work musically within a broader tapestry.

“Surprise” finds Cee-Lo lamenting his lack of a soul mate. An acoustic guitar added on this track softens the sound a bit from the all electronic cuts on the album, but it’s a bit disheartening to hear Danger once again fall back onto the hand claps. The hand clap sound is certainly big right now in popular music, but Danger is capable of more, and when he uses it on the majority of tracks on the album, it becomes hard to ignore as a staple of his beats. This constant hand clapping, while used in very different songs for different purposes, still comes off feeling forced at the end, and a bit disappointing that Danger doesn’t mess around with background sounds that could be used to replace the hand clap on certain songs. But the bigger surprise about “Surprise” is when it’s followed by an electronically backed love ballad of sorts in “No Time Soon.” The music for this song sounds like Danger took some influence from Nine Inch Nails as the heavy machinery feel provides the backdrop for a more melodic approach over the top.

“She Knows” finds the duo slowing down a bit with a lo-fi sound that could be the Price is Right theme song on quaaludes. The 70s airy melodies and simple, slower beat take the pace of the album down a notch while providing it with an even more pronounced retro sounds. “Blind Mary” demonstrates the diversity of this tandem. While the majority of the album skips over various genres, the end results are still directly tied to Gnarls Barkley with the style of retro bordering on hip-hop. On “Blind Mary,” the exploration of tampering with genres starts with an almost carnival-like sound before slipping into an easy going, foot tapping Indie Rock exploration. The end result is a lighthearted jaunt where Cee-Lo’s distinct voice and Danger’s cohesive production (featuring, again, unfortunately, more hand clapping) produce a unique sound that could be featured on a variety of radio stations.

“Neighbors” again keeps the tempo slow and features Cee-Lo’s lyrics with a good deal of distortion on the chorus. The easy hip-hop beat, combined with layers of electronic melody and bass funk create an interesting sound, and Danger keeps it together with a variety of vocal samples interlaced. The album comes to a close with “A Little Better,” a song that starts slowly using vinyl pops with a simple bass line and Cee-Lo talking about past moments in his life and his shortcomings. The drop step of the drums on the chorus, combined with a stair-step bass part and Cee-Lo singing in a soulful and at times gospel-like voice create a very easy song to listen to, fading out towards the end with a series of thank yous.

For any fan of St. Elsewhere, I can’t imagine a better follow up attempt by Gnarls Barkley. While it lacks a song that feels to me as unavoidably popular as “Crazy” was, it has some definite hits on it, and you can never tell what kind of radio and club airplay any of these songs will get if they get a remix makeover from some other DJ. Above all though, the album does a fantastic job at never becoming stagnant. Aside from the hand claps, Danger never relies too heavily on any one genre or production style, and Cee-Lo never lets his rap background influence him to a degree that would detract from the rest of his work. Furthermore, with not a single track clocking in over the 4 minute mark, the songs leave you wanting a bit more as opposed to having you looking for the skip track button. For the latest in the MixMatch style and the artful collaboration of artists and genres, look no further than The Odd Couple.

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