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There were two big music releases this week from artists on the opposite ends of the spectrum. One has sold many albums on the strength of his operatic pipes and the other is the king of the monster mash-up. Music critic Tom Moon joins All Things Considered host Melissa Block to talk about both albums.
First up is Girl Talk's new mash-up, All Day: the 71-minute release is available as a free download. Gregg Gillis, the man behind Girl Talk, takes bits and pieces of music from artists such as Jackson 5, massages them into computer software, and then lays a hip-hop track on top of it.
"It creates a double world or triple world in some cases," says Moon. "This project involves something like 370 discrete, individual samples that have been found, so far. Maybe there are more."
"It's things that you wouldn't think would go together, but do," says Moon. "It's the musical equivalent of the Appletini."
Tom Moon says he thinks Girl Talk's mash-ups work, particularly noting how Gillis massages the bits of music by slowing down a voice or speeding up a track. Conceived as a full 71-minute experience, All Day is a lot to absorb.
"I'm not sure that it's any more than an interesting novelty really well executed," says Moon. "But there are moments in it where you go, 'Wow, this guy is really aiming to bring something to a crescendo,' and then, toward the end, he really makes it feel like he's summing up."
On the other end is Josh Groban's Illuminations. The album is produced by none other than Rick Rubin, who mostly known for his work with Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Slayer, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Moon says the idea intrigued him, though he had never previously paid much attention to Groban's records. Rubin doesn't have a specific sound, Moon says. He works with concepts. But if anyone could get Groban out of what Moon calls his "romance-novel-in-a-song box," it'd be Rubin.
"As he did with Johnny Cash's career, he seems to find ways to get to the essence of an artist and help them redefine who they are," Moon says.
Rubin says that he wanted Illuminations to be the favorite of Groban's fans, but would also appeal to people who didn't like the singer. But Moon doesn't think Rubin succeeded.
"I really feel like this is the same Josh Groban in a different package," says Moon.
Moon says Rubin did take away what he calls the "super-schlocky" aspects of Groban and set him up with a studio orchestra that Frank Sinatra fans would recognize. In addition to encouraging Groban to write his own material, Rubin brought in veteran songwriter Dan Wilson (Semisonic) and others to write songs that straddle the area between pop music and pop-classical crossover.
However, one aspect of Groban does remain: songs in foreign languages. Moon likes the Portuguese-language track, "Voce Existe Em Mim," because he's not following the lyrics the same way he might in English. It features a real drum pulse like something you might hear on the streets of Rio.
Illuminations hasn't made Moon a Groban convert, but he does admit Groban has an amazing voice.
"I came to this wanting to be blown away because of Rick Rubin and what Rick Rubin has managed to do for other artists," say Moon. "I guess what I was left with was the feeling that I was watching this romance novelist crank out a new variation of the same story. It made me think someday we'll see on music scores a marking called Grobanissimo, or 'overwrought with anguish.'"
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