For today’s review, yesterday’s viral meme, yesteryear’s trend of the time, past history and engineers and mixers. You always need those.
When I first heard something about “There’s this Carly Rae Jepsen/NIN mashup!” yesterday — a welter of random posts, pretty much in all directions — mostly I was just thinking “Eh.” This is because I am old, jaded and easily annoyed, which isn’t good. But I felt like I was already old several times over on this subject, once and twice and again.
The first time I think I ever consciously heard something like this, as opposed to random sonic experiments in my fitful dive into music history via UCLA’s radio station and elsewhere, would probably have been 1993 or so when the Evolution Control Committee put out their still note-perfect combination of Herb Alpert and Public Enemy. Even this this was hardly, HARDLY something new, not when every Grandmaster Flash and Double Dee and Steinski freak could look at each other and go, “Yeah, and?” Not to mention John Oswald and so forth, but the point is, you start somewhere.
Years go by, other examples crop up as I find them, it’s 2001/2002, Napster and mp3s are part of the conversation, as is handy mixing software, a plethora of a cappellas and impulses ranging from the astoundingly creative (stand up Lance Lockarm, or rather his shade, as well as Osymyso — they, plus ECC and some more, get a nice overview here) to the hair-tuggingly awful or obvious. (Then there’s DJ /rupture but he transcends to the nth genre, a force of nature and thought still.) I will always treasure the moment when in Boston in 2002, quartzcity, thediscography and others all find ourselves in a bar in Boston talking and then a familiar rock arrangement begins and, precisely we’d been marinating in all the mashups going around, right at a certain point in the song we’re actually PISSED another singer hasn’t appeared instead of the actual band’s. Freelance Hellraiser, for “A Stroke of Genie-us” alone, I salute you still for that perfect moment of joint dashed expectations, even though you had nothing to do with it aside from projection and hope on our part that a typical dull bar song was about to become something else.
And like anything, it all thrived and died, though I still have a crazy extensive 3 CDR mp3 compilation around somewhere that I think boomselection.info put together. Could be wrong. I vaguely noted who continued on here and there as I could — and who knew that Soulwax would not only survive but thrive, with their majestic Dave audio/video effort from last year being one of the best such things that the whole concept has provided. So the idea that this production could exist, get viral attention, etc. wasn’t surprising, and hey, I contributed to it and all.
But I admit I had to get over a little bias first. While I’d heard “Call Me Maybe” a few times (not an understatement — I’ve heard it a FEW times, not endlessly), it never totally clicked for me beyond reasonable enjoyment. If anything on a first listen months ago it seems too understated. Then again, thinking back on HOW I heard it, it was on a system that wasn’t crunching out the bass as it could. A listen now, both via the original and via the remix, confirms my ears were clogged — that’s one intense rhythm, a full bodied crunch, and it explains the combination of that and melodic sweetness that made the song such a monster hit.
So far, so obvious, but the penny really dropped yesterday with the revelation via a friend that, as this article from months back noted, the mixer of the song was one Dave ‘Rave’ Oglivie, known for his production and mixing work on a slew of 80s and beyond industrial and industrial-leaning bands, most famously with Skinny Puppy but very much also including Nine Inch Nails. The singled out quote says it all, in full:
It seems to work because of the space in the track, which I was careful to leave, which means that you can hear the punch the kick drum is intended to have on computer speakers and in cars and in stores, in fact pretty much everywhere.
My background in industrial music definitely helped in achieving this. I was trying to get the same feel in ‘Call Me Maybe’ as in a Nine Inch Nails song, making sure it had a pop sensibility, but with people not even noticing how aggressive the kick drum is.
Now as noted my first listen didn’t quite have that impact, causing me to underrate the song, so it’s not a perfect solution, but he can’t control everything. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.
With that all cleared up, the combination clicks here damn well, largely because it’s also nice to hear an inversion of the model — it’s hardly universal but often it’s the hip-hop or pop track with the a capella to play with and the not-either-of-them track, whatever it may be, that provides the contrast. That’s partially due to the greater availability of said a capellas, but as a result the idea often becomes, in the hands of the dull and stupid, a heavy-handed irony of “Oh look we put this puppet/non-singer/rapper over ‘real’ music.”
So the actual flash of insight here — the stroke of genius this time — was putting the aggro singer over the big sweeping pop production, which was also designed to specifically mimic said aggro singer and play to said aggro singer’s own conceptual leap in making a certain approach more accessible, more pop. It’s not really a contrast so much as it as an extension and continuation, a double helix. If Carly Rae’s vocal had been delivered over “Head Like a Hole“‘s backing tracks — and I’m sure somebody’s going to try for that if they haven’t already — it’s not going to benefit from that kind of exchange, I’d be willing to bet, and had it been done without the context of this, it would probably fall a little flat and dumb.
So hurrah that it didn’t. And now time to listen to it again.