#MoNM Day 16: Girl Talk’s All Day

It starts with Black Sabbath’s version of war and ends with John Lennon’s version of peace. In between is all-encompassing po-mo pop, an all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of hits. It’s got a beat, and you can dance to it. It’s the world’s greatest name-that-tune night. It might be a party, or it might be art, or it might be both. If nothing else, it’s a conversation-starter.

Girl Talk’s All Day was released free yesterday, with the ensuing flood of interest bursting through the levees and drowning his server. It’s a slightly odd phenomenon, actually – we all know the basic tools that the album will be working with. We know it’ll mostly be (relatively) recent hip hop and R&B vocals on top of alt-rock and New Wave samples. Some sacred cows will be slaughtered (expect to hear plenty of beefing about Fugazi’s inclusion) and the fluidity (or interchangeability) of the last few decades’ worth of music will be highlighted again. But there are plenty of people doing mash-ups, and only one that gets this level of attention. So what makes Girl Talk different?

The most obvious difference is sheer quantity. Girl Talk’s albums are the K-Tel mega-mixes of mash-up culture. It’s rare to get more than a minute of any given song (though All Day stretches this a bit, opening with two full minutes of Sabbath and a reasonable chunk of Ludacris), and just as unusual to see any sort of musical foreshadowing. Again, All Day toys with this expectation a little, having Joey Ramone sing over The Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun” before bringing in the familiar three-chord crunch of “Blitzkrieg Bop” under a Missy Elliot track a few seconds later. But mostly, this is stream-of-consciousness stuff, pop-culture free association that the less charitable could compare to the “remember that show” punch-lines of Family Guy or the Movie movies.

But mashup proponents will argue that it’s not the recognition that makes this art, it’s the recontextualization. Let’s go back to the Fugazi track. Taking one of the most (philosophically) anti-commercial acts ever to emerge from the punk scene and having them back Rihanna is going to change the way you hear “Waiting Room,” if only because it rubs in how even the most underground acts are still working within pop structures. A few tracks later, you get ODB on top of Radiohead’s “Creep”, which is either a commentary on Dirty’s “weirdo” persona or just a fun piss-take. My money’s on the latter – Girl Talk seems more about finding sounds that work together well than concepts that do. Paul Simon and Li’l Jon happen to sound surprisingly kick-ass together. Any scathing cultural commentary you see is strictly in the eye of the beholder.

I’m not going to take a stand on the whole art-versus-party-versus-theft issue, because I don’t see why it can’t be all of the above. There’s too many questions in there anyway: Does art have to mean something? Is theft just a legal definition? Does the fact that this is a free download make it more “fair use” than the “pay-what-you-want” Feed the Animals? Does the fact that these questions come up when we’re talking about Girl Talk count as “meaning”? I could ramble on about all that, but I’d rather just listen to the album right now.

Download the whole damn thing here.

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