Review Summary: These mashups, better described as collages, belong in headphones and ear canals, not in monitors at house parties.
Mashups have been called the epitome of post-modern music--sound collages that, when executed properly, have the power to make sweeping commentary on pop culture as a whole. I used to use DJ Earworm’s “Viva La Pop” as a reference point for such mashups. Earworm took the top 25 songs of the 2008 and, as he does every year since 2007, made a mashup out of all of them. More than the other two, “Viva La Pop” seemed inspired, intending to show the wave of positivity that struck pop music that year. It worked magnificently, and it is still one of the best mashups to ever be made.
I’m pretty sure that my new benchmark for mashups as a statement is going to be Shit Computer
. It’s important to mention that Kids & Explosions, real name Josh Raskin, is also a director. In 2008, the Academy Awards nominated his animated short “I Met the Walrus” for Best Animated Short Film. Despite the different medium, Raskin’s work is the same sort of commentary on pop culture that Shit Computer
is. ”I Met the Walrus” uses a recording of 14-year-old Jerry Levitan, who snuck into John Lennon’s hotel in 1969 to interview him about peace. The interview, which lasts no more than 4-and-a-half minutes, effectively defines Lennon’s philosophy in about as concise a statement as “Imagine.” Raskin uses the recording and animates a creative and perfect visual depiction of the words coming out of Lennon’s mouth. At times humorous and at others poignant, Raskin’s animation no doubt made waves in the animated scene.
spans an equal range of emotions, but where “I Met the Walrus” made a concise, sweeping statement on John Lennon’s philosophy, letting the words speak for themselves, Raskin does a complete rearrangement of his sources on Shit Computer
. Take “Swear Words”, for example, which uses Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights” as the backing track to an endless tirade of samples of every curse word Raskin could find. At first, the track seems like a novelty, with angry cuss words shouting over the chopped, delicate Iron and Wine sample. Slowly, though, Raskin’s purpose becomes apparent. The cacophony grows, as Raskin decides to forego a capella tracks and let whatever guitar strum, keyboard hit, or snare drum smack acccompany the curse word, no matter what key it is in, before finally resolving to a long, heartfelt “shit.” Throughout the track, Raskin finds the different permutations of these curse words, showing their versatility without their context. The words are intoned independently with their respective emotions: furious, pensive, frustrated, nonchalant. Despite its novelty effect, it’s a quality mashup with a purpose.
Speaking to a greater purpose is Raskin’s general mashup style. Typically, Raskin chops up his samples, toeing the line between what is and what is not distinguishable. For example, opening song “Everything” uses Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” as its main vocal track, but Raskin hardly puts a full line of verse in without substituting other words or other samples from the song. He recreates “Lose Yourself” for his own purposes while still retaining its original identity. All of Shit Computer
maintains this seemingly contradictory binary. Even in the cacophony of “Swear Words”, we can hear and distinguish Kanye’s inflected “beeitch” and associate it with his particular character. Identity is more about the core of the voice--Em’s intensity, Ye’s aloof, haughty pride, Biggie’s introspection on “There is a Burning Ball of Fire in Outer Space”--than it is about the definite rhythm and phrasing of each vocalist. The same concepts apply to the instrumental tracks he uses. Nothing retains its original rhythm and phrasing (though it was one of Raskin’s main tenants to retain the original pitch of every sample he used), yet everything remains identifiable.
Shit Computer is anything but a party record. It’s a compendium of pop music, broken into shards by a hammer and rearranged like a cubist painting. Indeed, more than any other mashup artist, Kids and Explosions creates music that resembles cubism. Throughout the album, we as listeners view the samples from different perspectives in time (rhythmic) and place (in relation to other samples), yet the picture as a whole remains the same. Shit Computer is pop music, and indeed, pop culture as a whole, transformed into the myriad perspectives of Raskin’s sound collages, left open to the interpretation and discretion of the listener.