The only person to ever take mash-up that seriously was Gregg Gillis. Given that Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, was the best at it, it made sense for him to refer to what he did as “performance art” in an interview I conducted with him a few years ago. Appreciating Night Ripper, Feed The Animals or All Day this way isn’t hard, since they certainly have their share of artful moments. But more than anything, Girl Talk work as joyous, unfettered musical id – radio brain matter splattering itself out on canvas.
While subsequent interviews may disprove this, it seems like Dan Deacon has no such artistic pretensions about his new freely available mash-up fiesta, Wish Book Vol. 1. From the Bart Simpson-inspired cover art to the unstoppably attention grabbing first combo (Grimes and Psy, because why the hell not?), Wish Book never feels like anything other than little over half an hour of Deacon going berserk on his favorite songs.
Despite the immediate, visceral hipster pleasure gleaned from hearing Psy rap over “Oblivion,” Deacon takes his time chopping and screwing up his samples to fit his purpose. A distinct advantage Gillis always had was using his encyclopedic knowledge of music to find songs that needed little textural changing to be smashed together; Deacon takes no so approach. Emotions are more important than recognition – why else would Deacon bury a chipmunk’d sample of Animal Collective’s vocal bridge in “My Girls”? Sonics over songcraft, for better and worse.
Deacon makes the mistake nearly every mash-up artist has made (including Gillis) in trying to sandwich lil Wayne’s “A Milli” verse somewhere and ends up sounding foolish, but for the most of the record’s first fifteen minutes, the results are uniformally excellent. “Someone Area (Rod)” is the immediate standout, building off Rod Stewart to get to a toned down “Single Ladies” and an effortless “Someone Great” sample. Hip-hop plays less of an important role to Deacon than it does to Gillis, which makes the moments his throws a verse over some indie-rock all the more special. Nicki Minaj blasts over Tune-Yards. “Someone Great” croons over a slo-mo “Black and Yellow.” The samples aren’t hard to identify, and the mix generally stays on the right side of completely fucking insane.
The second half of the album loses this steam relatively quickly. Deacon is best when it seems like he’s trying to hold himself back from putting the millionth layer onto his cake, so tracks like “Beez Eagles” and “Virgin Uncle Salt,” that can in places seem like normal A+B mashup fare, heavily disappoint on the heels of the screwy opening salvos. Each have their share of beautiful turns of pop inventiveness – Rihanna’s “Diamond” vocal samples anchor what could turn into nonsense mush on “Oscillating Diamonds,” and even in that role the song is only vaguely successful. Deacon doesn’t necessarily need to match the anthemic nature of most mash-up, but to be consciously subverting this impulse, as much of the second half of the album seems to be, is a little misplaced as well. Especially given that he seems fine with his fists up in the air on the first two tracks.
Missteps aside, Deacon still outpaces most mash-up artists who call the genre their game on just his first album of it. Not that this is particularly revelatory – were Vegas to have put a line on it, Deacon’s odds of being a talented mash-up artist would’ve been pretty good. And if the Volume One is to be believed, Dan Deacon isn’t giving this up as a one-off. Wish Book may not yet rival Girl Talk’s prodigious output, but at least it’s introducing a necessary element of competition into the mix. Plus, if Deacon ever pulls out “Someone Area (Rod)” in concert, it will be an all-timer.
Dan Deacon – Wish Book Vol 1 Tracklist
1. Gangrimes Style
2. Someone Area (Rod)
3. Oscillating Diamonds
4. Beez Eagles
5. Virgin Uncle Salt