When the Beastie Boys announced that their next studio album would be an all-instrumental affair, a few eyebrows were undoubtedly raised. While this reaction is understandable considering that the group are famed and loved for their rap music, fans of the group must be aware that the trio do have it in them to record an album such as this. The fact that they began life as a hardcore band back in 1981 serves as evidence that they can play their own instruments. Ever since then the band have grown more out of touch with their hardcore punk roots and instead have grown into the rap group that we know them as today. Their Ill Communication
and Check Your Head
albums were both interspersed with instrumentals that saw the boys pick up their own instruments again, and these two albums' interludes act as a good indicator of what fans can expect with The Mix Up
, their twelfth album. The album is made up of funky/jazzy music made with relaxing in mind; and it does it's job well as the laid back, almost 'lounge-jazz' nature of the music here is certainly a departure from other albums.
When a band/group makes the decision to record a fully instrumental album, there are a few things that they must take into consideration: that instrumentals become boring very quickly if there is not enough variation; the motifs used need to be interesting enough in the first place to catch and hold the listener's attention; and the music should create a mood or an atmosphere as there are no lyrics to do this. While Beastie Boys don't always manage to tick off all of these check-points, as it were, they do normally manage to be able to cross off at least two of the three-and by doing this they have managed to create 12 tracks that are both listenable and enjoyable.
The main music style on the album is 'lounge jazz' and therefore the mood throughout is a very laid-back one. Album opener 'B For My Name'
is perhaps the best example of this, as it sets up the stall right away, and lets the listener know what awaits them with the remaining eleven tracks. The following track, '14th St. Break'
has the most in common with what fans would normally expect from the band; it has a hip-hop beat playing throughout, and bridge made up of whistles, steel drums, cans and other percussive instruments so that it sounds reminiscent of 'Triple Trouble'
. It displays good use of motifs that are certainly interesting-the distant tabla sounds throughout much of the track, and the moaning guitar solo make the track one of the best on the album.
The use of motifs is very well-executed throughout the album, as generally they are repeated enough times to matter, but are also ended, changed or built upon soon enough to keep the track from going stale. While this is done well throughout the album, there is the odd track where it is not achieved, and the longevity of that track suffers as a result. 'The Cousin of Death'
starts out with a bass-heavy, distorted riff, that initially sounds very promising indeed. However, this riff is repeated during the whole track and while 'extras' such as cowbells change slightly, it becomes repetitive fairly quickly. However, 'Electric Worm'
is the polar opposite of this lack of variation, as it manages to cram in both guitar and panpipe 'breakdowns/bridges' as well as a main theme consisting of an impressive bass line that is very prominent, the cowbells and steel-drums offer polyrhythms with the rest of the instrumentation, and add even more to the already brilliant track.
The single for the album is 'The Gala Event'
, believe it or not starts off sounding very similar to Explosions In The Sky, with a melancholic guitar melody that creates a lot of atmosphere, in fact it creates mood better than any other song on the album. The post-rock like guitar riff continues, being backed by a hip hop beat, and is further accentuated by pushes from a second guitar that are very funky. If that track was not to be the single for the album, then any of the other tracks here could have done the job well as they are all (except maybe, The Cousin of Death) of a high enough calibre to do so. The best track on the album comes in the form of the bluesy 'Off The Grid'
. While other tracks may not have made the most of dynamics, 'Off The Grid'
realises the potential of incorporating a clear loud/quiet dynamic. Starting the quiet section off with a bluesy riff that continues for a while, with enough variation from other instruments to remain interesting; it suddenly and very unexpectedly leads into a much louder section. The texture thickens and we are treated with a guitar solo, of sorts. The texture thins again, as the volume decrease back to its starting level, thus completing the most dynamic track on The Mix Up
While an all instrumental album from the Beastie Boys has always been a possibility, there was no doubt that there would be those willing to dismiss it as a failure, and doubting their ability to pull it off successfully. Well, The Mix Up
has certainly proved the doubters wrong; as the Beastie Boys have made a mature, enjoyable, and some may say - great, album. They have proved that they can write music without the need for 'yappy' vocals that are in some cases juvenile, yet nevertheless, entertaining. This album is just as entertaining as most of what they have done before, and some may find it even more
entertaining. While it is still to be seen how successful the album will be with the fans, it certainly meets the criteria of what is needed from an instrumental album, and in the Beastie Boys case, exceeds people's expectations of what the trio is capable of.
Due June 26th, 2007, you can stream the album in its entirely here: