DJ Spooky :: The Secret Song
Thirsty Ear Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
We last heard from 'That Subliminal Kid' DJ Spooky two years ago when
"Creation Rebel" was released.
At the time, the reggae side of the diaspora was all that Paul D. Miller had on
his mind, but such an eclectic and innovative musician can't be held down to
just one genre for very long. As both a producer and a DJ, Spooky believes
in music that taps into your unconscious, revealing the mood you were feeling
and the thought you were thinking before you even knew you had it. He's
got a thirteen year track record of doing just that, and every time one tries to
define Miller's sound he redefines it for you. He's scored for Saul Williams,
he's rocked it out with Sonic Youth, and he's peeled back the layers of hip-hop
like an eye-watering onion with the demented Kool Keith. There's no one
label that fits DJ Spooky and hopefully there never will be.
2009's "The Secret Song" is all of the above and then some. Miller denies
this is even an album at all, instead preferring to state that released a musical
meditation on the collision between economics and globalization in sound.
That's obvious from the opening two tracks, as Spooky opens the presentation
with a light and bouncy flute melody that slams into the brick wall of a movie
theater, currently screening a Movietone News reel about a delicate cold war
balance between countries on opposite sides. The narrator hopes the conflict
will be "the challenge of ideas" instead of one fought with weapons. Boots
Riley from The Coup may beg to differ though, as a DJ Spooky remix of
"5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" immediately follows. In the context though
one could presume the message is that seemingly idealistic political discourse
is only a function of the corporate sponsorship which holds a firm grip on
every democracy worldwide. With any DJ Spooky project there are always
multiple interpretations available, so feel free to draw your own.
With the permission of all the artists involved, Spooky is free to re-imagine
their sounds and styles as a product of borderless musical commerce, turning
tracks such as Rob Swift's "Dope on Plastic" into high octane, rollicking
uptempo remakes which jump from echoing organs to smashing guitar rock
to old school hip-hop samples. Spooky himself calls his format on "The
Secret Song" a combination of "conceptual hip hop front and center with an
eerily accessible palette of material that touches on rock's relationship to dub."
If that sounds heady, you've only just begun to imagine the deep waters your
mind will swim in on this album. In fact Spooky claims without the least bit
of wry irony that this album was made by Terminator 8 two summer blockbusters
into the future.
Ever wanted to hear Led Zeppelin's "Dazed
and Confused" or "No Quarter" with a totally new beat, style and sound,
a literal symphony of harmonious eargasm? Perhaps not, but after DJ Spooky
is done with them on "The Secret Song" it's a wonder to the listener how no
one ever thought of it before. It also seems patently obvious that a global
and universal artform like hip-hop, one predicated on giving disenfranchised
people of all walks of life a voice, would feature a song like "Azadi" where
an lauded Iranian singer named Sussan Deyhim would sing to you in Farsi.
It doesn't matter if you understand the words right away - just lose yourself
in her beautiful voice and Spooky's head-nodding beats. Later on you can
find the translation and recognize the universal theme your heart already
knew was there - a desire for the spirit to roam free and unfettered by the
world which we live in today.
Each time you think you've got a handle on the answer to what "The Secret
Song" is, DJ Spooky changes the question again, and suddenly you're pondering
an esoteric rap about "Ronald Reagan's jellybeans" with a "planetary litmus
test for the gentry." Say what? "That Secret Song" is best enjoyed when you
stop trying to make sense of it all and just embrace the experience. The description
may be making the album sound disjointed and chaotic, but in reality the tracks
flow so smoothly from one idea to the next that it's only obscenely confusing if
you jump around at random instead of just sinking deep into the Spooky waters
that give this album its depth. Spooky is living up to his Subliminal Kid nickname
here, giving you deeply encoded messages you may never see, much like the
barcodes he has promised to hide around New York that will unlock bonus songs
when swiped with your iPhone. (Now why can't my iTouch swipe barcodes?
That's not fair.) He may be demented, he may be a genius, he may be both - but
one thing DJ Spooky is and continues to be is highly creative and not boring in the least.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: August 18, 2009