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    Monday, April 28, 2008

    Blood rain

    I'm always interested how records will hold up over time. Will the ones I'm currently obsessed with still sound good a year from now? A decade from now? Some albums I used to love have faded in my esteem (Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, Interpol's Antics) while others have seemed to only appreciate with age (The Streets' Original Pirate Material, Fugazi's The Argument). But perhaps my biggest surprise has been the sustainability of Girl Talk's Night Ripper. Gregg Gillis's project practically seems stamped with a sell-by date, but here I am two years later, still replaying it on the regular.

    On a basic level, it's still really fun. It still bangs, and the pangs of nostalgia still strike when a particularly well-chosen sample (I'm referring to D4L's "Laffy Taffy" here obviously) comes on. But it's also proven so durable because its purpose has changed with time. When it first came out, its goal was to bust down every dichotomy in sight. Old meshed promiscuously with new; mainstream pushed up against indie; the limits of genre were treated as irrelevant and old-fashioned. But now as Night Ripper's two-year anniversary approaches, and the samples have all reached a certain age, the album's finally become what it once claimed to be--an entity all its own. It's no longer focused on how weirdly subversive "Juicy" sounds over Elton John's piano trills. In fact, it seems so instinctive now that I half-hope Biggie's going to step in with a verse whenever I hear "Tiny Dancer."

    At the same time, if Night Ripper does have a drawback, it would be that same element of familiarity. More than any other album of the '00s, it's built solidly around novelty. Even as the disparate samples have gelled into a cohesive work, I do miss the surprise of what could possibly come next. Now I just expect Missy Elliott to follow Sonic Youth, and while it still works, I can't help but wish there was some way to be taken aback like I once was. In short, I want the novelty of novelty, that gleeful shock of the new.

    That must be why I'm loving Blood Rain by Vancouver DJ Chuck Dollarsign so much. A deliberate disciple of Girl Talk's methods, Dollarsign makes no secret of his influence. And well, he couldn't really. From the explicit overlaps (2 Live Crew's "Face Down, Ass Up," Beyonce's "Check On It") to the implied (the generous dollops of Phil Collins, Mims' "This Is Why I'm Hot"), it's pretty clear he's picking up where Gillis left off. He even retains much of Gillis's libidinal energy, meeting big, driving beats with lots of talk of body parts. But at their core, the key commonality between the projects is the level of high-quality output.

    As he's already demonstrated with his Chuckmore mix, Dollarsign has the essential talent of selecting songs. He knows how to wring the maximum effect out of his choices, zoning on the juiciest bits and letting them loose. He tends to forgo Gillis's beloved 120 Minutes cuts in favor of a more Patrick Bateman aesthetic (Hall & Oates, Men Without Hats, Billy Ocean), but the end result's not far off. Layered under radio-ready hip hop, the poppy guitar lines and catchy productions take on new meanings. Songs gain an extra bump and an exciting new swagger; old favorites hit you freshly from refreshingly askew angles.

    Even tracks I didn't particularly like sound revitalized and vital under Dollarsign's thumb. One of the indisputable high points is his treatment of Dem Franchise Boyz' "White Tee." On its own, it's a good enough song that adheres too tightly to Southern rap tropes. But here, cut up and spliced with Billy Joel's deft piano from "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," it suddenly gets loose and unexpected. With the freedom to remix at will, Dollarsign further adds to the unpredictability with some jarringly effective loops and repetitions. Likewise, his treatment of Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's" is, in my mind, a great improvement on the original. In its recontextualized version, it feels bigger and bolder. With a few sweeping progressions, Dollarsign manages to incorporate everything from Led Zeppelin to LCD Soundsystem, from Steve Reich to the Smiths. Yet it doesn't ever seem like he's showing off for the sake of it; it's remarkable how smoothly it all fits together.

    Throughout Blood Rain and especially with those two moments, the watchword is unmitigated fun. It's all about having a great time, rocking out, keeping the party going. That's why it's really astounding when you reach the end and "Throw Some D's" transitions to the Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." Riding out the bassline from Big Boi's "The Way You Move," Raekwon comes out spitting fire like you'd expect. But under that impassioned delivery, Dollarsign masterfully surprises you one more time. Instead of upping the energy, he keeps the tempo downbeat with a backdrop that's reverent, almost poignant. It always makes me think of that moment when a really good party is winding down, when I'm stepping outside for the first time in hours. That rush of cold air hitting my face, that revelation that there are stars above my head. Feeling spent but euphoric. Then at that pivotal turn, Dollarsign adds in The Passions exclaiming, "I'm in love! I'm in love! I'm in love!" and I think, yeah, exactly.

    It's wonderfully thoughtful choices like this that have kept Blood Rain trapped in my headphones all week. At times, I think it's even better than Night Ripper, because at eighteen minutes, it can sustain its breakneck momentum without adding any filler. (By which I mean, no annoyingly extended cuts of "My Humps" or "Hollaback Girl.") By dissecting the best of Gregg Gillis' work and building upon it, Dollarsign has, in a way, girl-talked Girl Talk. But even more importantly, he's also produced yet another terrific mix that I fully expect to be enjoying two years from now.

    * MP3: Blood Rain - Chuck Dollarsign
    * Previously: Chuckmore: The Mix

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