Wednesday, August 4, 2010

N.A.S.A. - The Spirit Of Apollo

Released: Early 2009
Availability: stores, online, easily found.
Label: Spectrophonic Sound/Anti- (independent labels)

N.A.S.A. - North America South America - is two DJs (Squeak E. Clean ad DJ Zegon) and an idea. The idea was to collect as many different people as possible, and start recording music. Certainly not a new idea, I have a number of collaboration albums in my collection. This one is only slightly different - the collaboration in question wasn't primarily the DJs and Another Artist. It was Two Different Artists, that the DJs mixed together. The genre is primarily Hip Hop - as are the majority of the artists (Kanye West, KRS-One, Kool Keith, RZA, and others) but a few aren't (Tom Waits, George Clinton, Lykke Li). The albums swerves through Hip Hop, Funk, Samba, and Drum & Bass like a slalom course. For the most part it stays pretty on target with Hip Hop as the MC is the primary song style here - almost no traditional vocal singing is done, mostly rap.

But the genius is sometimes in the pairings, the way various parts of put together. And that a few new artists popped up onto my radar as they didn't stick exclusively with the Popular/Known Ones.

They didn't stop at the artists, they even commissioned five different artists for five (six if you count the booklet with lyrics) album covers. And thankfully did not commit the grievous sin of five different releases - all five pieces of art work are included on cards so you could switch the one you like best to the top of the jewel case (I scanned my favorite into iTunes and left them in order when putting it on the CDs shelves to look pretty). Each card - on the back - covers the artists who contributed to each song - which is the kind of thing I really look for in a booklet and why I avoid digital downloads if possible that don't include one.

Intro - This is not a song, it's not even really an introduction. It's a mission statement. I can imagine that they asked each artist to read the statement, and then hacked it apart and put it back together so it sounds like everyone said a word or two in sequence. Onto the music.

The People Tree - David Byrne (Talking Heads), Chali 2na (Jurassic Five, Ozomatli), Gift Of Gab (Blackalicious), DJ Z-Trip (Turntablist). The track is a mix between a smooth beat and a Top-40/Pop-Rock track. Chali and Gift Of Gab trade verses while David provides the chorus.

Money - David Byrne, Chuck D (Public Enemy), Ras Congo (I don't know - I need info!), Seu Jorge (Brazilian Samba artist), DJ Z-Trip. Combining David Byrne and Chuck D is an interesting mix here, especially when you pull in the Reggae (Ras Congo) and Samba (Seu Jorge) elements. It mixes well, the Reggae elements take over musically even as David brings a lighter elements and Chuck D a heavier one. The song it self is about the evils of money. . . I just like the beat.

N.A.S.A Music - Method Man (Wu-Tang Clan, among other acts), E-40 (rapper), DJ Swamp (turntablist). Pretty much straight up Hip Hop as Method Man and E-40 trade off while DJ Swamp provides a very danceable beat.

Way Down - RZA (Wu-Tang Clan, plus others), Barbie Hatch (unsigned singer), John Fruciante (Red Hot Chile Peppers). Now the collaborations are starting to flex some muscle. The ethereal lyrics of Barbie and RZA's rapping mix together with John's guitar bringing an extra layer to the backing electronica. The song is about a girl who falls in love with the devil. Musically it starts to show what the project is about - meshing wildly diverse elements.

Hip Hop - KRS-One (hip hop artist), Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre (The Pharcyde). Another purely hip-hop track, as the name says. KRS-One brings a lyrical smoothness rarely seen, but the song itself isn't very diverse. Almost a step backwards from the previous tracks raising of the bar.

Four Rooms, Earth View - Squeak E Clean & DJ Zegon, a short piece playing a recording from somewhere... nothing really interesting and I think maybe it could have been left out.

Strange Enough - Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Ol' Dirty Bastard (Wu-Tang Clan; posthumously), Fatlip. Ol' Dirty Bastard makes an appearance from old recordings opposite Fatlip as they switch back, Karen O provides a switch as she changes the tempo with the chorus considerably, and the whole attitude of the track. Another flexing of mixing muscles here.

Spacious Thoughts - Kool Keith (rapper), Tom Waits (singer). If there is a musical equivalent of a nuclear weapon this is it right here. None of the lyrics make much sense as Keith and Tom move back and forth, but there's an inevitable landscape created, something dark, urban, bright, and loud. Keith's very smooth style with Tom's very rough singing does exactly everything this album set out to do in my opinion - bring widely opposite styles into synch. These two need to be unleashed to record an entire album together, the song is gorgeous. I had the chorus stuck in my head for days.

Gifted - Kanye West (rapper), Santogold (rapper), Lykke Li (singer). While Kanye and Santogold are both rappers, their styles are both opposing and complimentary. His lyrics are nearly as smooth compared to her almost sung verse. Lykke provides one hell of a chorus and its too bad she didn't contribute a third verse to pull this song further apart and knit it closer together. The song is beautifully listenable, warm and upbeat.

A Volta - Sizzla (reggae artist), Amanda Blank (singer/rapper), Lovefoxxx (singer of Brazlian group Cansei de Ser Sexy). Again, the album finds the right groove of mixing styles, a smooth Reggae beat swings along while the versus move at a much faster pace than the beat would lead on. Again, I think they missed just off the mark by not giving Lovefoxxx a third verse, only a chorus appearance. Still, this track belongs on a dance floor.

There's A Party - George Clinton (funk), Chali 2na. George Clinton (everyone in his band really) leads a classic funk track here, Chali brings in a hip hop element that crosses and bridges the genres cleanly. It's a slower track, just the slow side of a dance floor track. A light hearted element on the album, complete with group clap along section.

Wachadoin? - Spank Rock (rapper), M.I.A. (rapper), Santogold, Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). This is a bit of foot-stomper track, M.I.A. leads with her typical staccato beat, while Spank Rock provides a more classic rap. Nick's minimal guitar in the background prevents the track from falling into only drums and beats.

O Pato - Kool Kojak (DJ, producer), DJ Babao (turntablist). A swinging little samba number, with a lot of samples. The whole thing sounds a bit silly, but it's a really smooth dance track behind it all. Even with the weird pornographic Donald Duck imitation on it. . .

Samba Soul - Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (MC), DJ QBert (turntablist). Two powerhouses in the hip hop world put together a pretty standard track here, not quite as samba as the previous track (despite the name), though Del by far has the most verbose style of rap on the record. Always a good listen, while not really opposing musical styles, it's good to put these two together and see what happens.

The Mayor - The Cool Kids (hip hop duo), Ghostface Killa (Wu-Tang Clan, among others), Scarface (rapper), DJ AM (DJ). The last mix on the album here is another pretty straight forward hip hop track, nothing spectacular here in all honestly. There's talent here for sure, it just isn't a mix of opposing styles like some of the songs preceding it.

N.A.S.A. Anthem - The album closes out with the same kind of mash up as the intro provided. Though instead of cutting up everyone's contributions the artists here (and it's not quite everyone) harmonize a single long verse on repeat. It's a very happy together type verse.

then there's a lot of minutes of silence where I curse the entire concept of hidden tracks where there's no real information provided and be thankful I live in the Internet Age where I can find this information out so I don't have to spend days wondering. . . .

Electric Flowers (hidden track!) - Nina Persson (The Cardigans), RZA. The only saving grace to this as a hidden track is that is saves the album from ending on the pap of the "NASA Anthem" thing (which, while nice, is a crap 'song'). It allows the album to go out with a mellow, upbeat, track that juxtaposes RZA's rapping against Nina's smoothly sung chorus.

All in all - the experiment of bringing together these artists (from mega-stars to nearly unheard-ofs) is a success. It doesn't come off as Artist + Guest like so many of these do, but a series of collaborations. Some of which would never have happened were it not for NASA. Overall - the album is more than worth adding to a collection.