September 4, 2008

Girl Talk: Feed the Animals

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Paying for music is so anachronistic it’s practically shameful. Buying a song on iTunes is one thing, especially if one is drunk. But ambling into Wal-Mart and setting down $25 (or whatever) for the newest Weezer album with four disarming quasi-adults splayed across the cover, is an exercise in misplaced nostalgia. Sorry guys, there are more interesting tchotchkes to waste money on.
Last year Radiohead, a multiplatinum act, did what smalltimers have been doing for years now: distribute an entire album online for free. Freeish. You had to pay, but you decided how much. Why, you could even go “Fuck you, Thom!” and pay nothing!
In Rainbows was hailed as revolutionary, but I didn’t buy into the speculative adulation. The story might well have been “Band Does Something Weird — On the Internet!” Pitchfork even published a guide. Guys, it’s not a washing machine, it’s a fucking Radiohead album.
Radiohead’s promotion came and went, and their gimmicky virtual tip jar quietly faded to a memorable curiousity. But this summer, mash-up artist Gregg Gillis (alias “Girl Talk”) chose to release his fourth album, the follow-up to 2006’s Night Ripper, via the same scheme.
Feed the Animals is available for download at a price you set. One catch: if you pay nothing, you must explain to Gregg why you’re shafting him. If you were the ghost of Pimp C you might be tempted to write “screw off,” considering Feed’s opening leans heavily on his breakneck lyrical posturing to marvelous effect. This is Girl Talk at his best.
Gillis salvages tracks from over 300 songs, atomized and layered into an hourlong mix. “Play Your Part’”s intro combines Pretty Woman’s hook, the Unicorns’ percussion and “Gimme Some Lovin’”s keys under a breathless minute of International Player’s Anthem’s vocals. “What It’s All About” launches with a loop of Beyoncé going “oh!” and ends with the Jackson 5 singing “ABC” over the rising crescendo of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” shattered by the Ying Yang Twins’ “booty booty droppin’ droppin’.” Samples bleed through tracks, yet breaks feel like channel surfing in surreality. Basically, Gregg is a mad genius.
Consistently danceable, Feed — frenetic, fun and wickedly clever — is part party mix, part guessing game. Samples are submerged under multiple layers, as the meticulous Gillis coats his underpainting. Anatomizing it is a fool’s errand. Listening to it is a delight.
Releasing Feed under a pay-go setup is apt. After all, Gillis doesn’t do royalties (the label is called Illegal Art for a reason). If Gregg ran into Beyoncé on the street, I’m sure he’d be happy to pay for aping her moan, only at a price he considers fair.
I believe this model will proliferate, at least on a small scale. It’s less a novelty than buying CDs. Let’s insist on this rule of etiquette: a courteous person never tells how much he/she offers to pay. It encourages boastfulness, spite and mendacity. Imagine the pissing contests. “You paid twenty? Fuck you, I paid three hundred, that’s how much I care.”
However, I will admit I paid for Feed. That’s more than I can say for Radiohead. Or anyone else, for that matter.