All at once

N.A.S.A.’s gang bangers might be a little much
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  March 3, 2009

SWERVE ON: A charitable reading of N.A.S.A.’s Apollo may be possible only when you’re drunk-plunked into its molten center.

If nothing else, the release of The Spirit of Apollo (Anti-) a few weeks ago by the intercontinental hip-hop/baile/other duo of N.A.S.A. (that’s North America/South America) makes an encouraging, if not actually uttered, statement, the prophetic heft of which suits well the forever-young god of its namesake. I imagine its going something like this:

What’s up, we’re N.A.S.A., and starting now, mash-ups are for pussies. Want to juxtapose wildly? Sorry. You can no longer do that. (Well, Girl Talk can. But just him. And soon not even him.) From now on, if you want Karen O hooting over ODB and Fatlip, or Lykke Li and Santigold setting scenes for Kanye, or David Byrne and Z-Trip making nice with Chuck D, Mas Congo, and Seu Jorge — do what we did: go out with there with the impossibly vast lasso of a vague idea and round them up! Fly to Hawaii and to Jamaica and to Sweden and to São Paulo with a bunch of nice mics. No more clicking shit out of the æther, okay? After all, anyone can do that. And that is so not what we did here. Not even close. Also, PARTY ALL NIGHT!!!!

My hypothetical narrator, while kind of a dick, does make a good point; I recorded the following phoner in Ableton Live, for chrissakes.

“Oh, you gonna chop me up?” says a hung-over-sounding Squeak E. Clean in a car to San Diego when I tell him this. And you can sense that though he’s having a half-laugh, there’s some real wariness of the press in his voice. He sighs when I bring up the number of bitchy bloggers who’ve rushed to dog N.A.S.A.’s auspicious debut album’s 18 tracks, more than 40 “guest” appearances, and five years in the making with concept-popping little darts like “hipster mulch.”

For his part, Clean (a/k/a Sam Spiegel, a/k/a Spike Jonze’s brother — see why he’s wary?) and DJ Zegon claim purer interests. Our chat meanders around the epic globetrotting process by which Apollo was realized, and the “party-rockin’ DJ set” nature of the live show. But he regularly plants points about ideas emerging “organically” and efforts to “bring worlds together” and achieve “unity through music” while “exploring the unknown.” (And, yes, I just chopped him up.)

For those of you thinking, “Wow, that is some Jamiroquai shit,” please join me in admitting that, yes, some music is much better once you’ve lowered your natural resistance to it, preferably well in advance. Apollo’s permeating sense of dance-floor disorientation (ADD DJ’d from Brazilian funk to zany electro to zealously edited break-hop) often comes off more like a Jäger jag than a group hug. It’s not low-quality party music by any means, but it is party music — imagine the Avalanches with dirtier weed. And even in that category it’s a little much. (No one notices what the Hydra is wearing as it bears down on you.) Despite Spiegel’s determination that Apollo represents “a cohesive album and not just a random bunch of songs,” a charitable reading of it may be possible only when you’re drunk-plunked into its molten center. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

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