Fans of electronic music, hip-hop, and beat culture already know that Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky (That Subliminal Kid) is the most academic of DJs. His early recordings, made when he has in his early twenties, were all adorned with wordy critical and philosophical concepts in their booklets; in interview, the man was an unstoppable flow of words. Ultimately, however, then as now, it all comes down to the music. Whether or not one could get with his records, (s)he always had to admit he was original to the core. The Secret Song is DJ Spooky's first new studio recording in a decade. Issued by Thirsty Ear, it contains a CD and a DVD. The latter hosts a project where Spooky musically and visually remixes a cinematic montage by no less that Dziga Vertov from his '20s films Kino Glaz and Kino Pravda. The hip thing is that these two films were already early montage exercises, so with Spooky's mix of ambient dub, classical, cinematic snippets and space, these gorgeous black-and-white images — that already reflect a way of life all but unknown to most of today's Westerners — recombine history as contrast in sound, vision, and the various terrains where they begin to bleed into one another.
The CD is a concept album, and it's a stone killer. Spooky has enlisted a slew of New Yorkers to help him with this set, including: Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and wordsmith Mike Ladd — on the same cut — DJ Rob Swift, the Coup, Zimbabwe Legit, Mike G of the Jungle Brothers, the unwitting George W. Bush, pianist Vijay Iyer, vocalist Sussan Deyhim the Post-Modern Jazz Quartet (Matthew Shipp, Khan Jamal, Michael Bisio, and Michael Thompson) and strings and winds group, the Golden Arm Trio arranged by Peter Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds. The latter two groups appear on multiple selections. The set fixates itself on how the relationships of hip-hop and electronic musics find their places among philosophy, economics, and the sonic sciences in a world where the global financial meltdown has made music a kind of final territory of solace, a landscape of refuge for young people with less time and precious little money.
Music here, regardless of genre (and its artificial definitions) doesn't collide or meld together so much as cooperate and ask questions of itself and the other sounds arranged around it. Nothing feels left to chance; instead, Secret Song feels like the sound of digging further and further into the roots of an arbitrary economy, that could only be articulated in sound because everything else relates to commerce in one sense or another. Ideology isn't the heavy suit here; sound is, as it plays with and against the transaction of space, time, and commerce in the world of the individual and society in history. These 20 tracks range from just under a minute-and-a- half to a little over six. Singling them would be to play a game that Spooky's set himself against. His music is about examining ideas and creating new ones by placing these short sequences of sonic inquiry next to, on top of, and underneath one another. There are hidden sounds inside and — literally — outside (the clues the album refers to are everywhere). The listener needs not so much to work at them, but to take them in and respond. The Secret Song is the welcome return to recording by one of its most mercurially intelligent musicmakers. It may also be the only concept recording of the 21st century that can be considered crucial listening.
DJ Spooky’s newest album is an interesting thought experiment as to the nature of hip hop, and indeed music in general, in the context of the changing modern world. The album begins with a pronouncement of the new era of ideas we live in, and acknowledges the inherent conflict of ideas brought about by the information age. From this point on, DJ Spooky seems to attempt to find the place music plays in the changing world, and brings together music from across the globe. The album contains a wide array of ideas and styles of music, ranging from compelling thought experiments to mundane dance beats.
The overwhelming focus of the album seems to be the current economic recession and although the overall effect is rather compelling, I found several of the tracks to be too obtuse or juvenile to take seriously. 5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO came across as more of profane rant about corruption than anything constructive. Although good for a laugh, its dehumanization of the corrupt executives is matched by the childish violence of the lyrics, and results in a feeling of mutual disgust with both the CEOs and the rappers. The title track, The Secret Song, although conceptually very compelling, requires a bit of research to gain any insight. Unless the listener is fluent in Mandarin, it is essentially three minutes of confusion with a soft rhythm in the background. To those who don’t know, the excerpt being read is from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Therefore the Chinese economist reading it gives a strong mental image of the conflict of US and Chinese economic ideals. But even so, the tracks obscurity serves to alienate much of its listening body.
The album fits quite well in to the trend of innovation that has characterized electronic music for the past century. DJ Spooky attempts to find innovation primarily through collaboration with musicians from around the world, to great effect. The mixing of standard hip hop with Farsi and Mandarin lyrics, as well as the implementation of musical themes from India, Iran, etc, provides a strong feeling of globalization of sound and thought.
All of these elements are blended with an array of jazz melodies, hip hop beats, and electronic synthesizers to create a truly unique and stimulating sound. Each track feels like its own unique genre of music being realized, and the wide array of collaborative artists keeps the sound fresh and interesting. All of this fuses seamlessly with DJ Spooky’s personal eccentricities for an enjoyable listening experience.
The track that stood out to me during my initial listening was Measure by Measure. The beginning introduced a complex jazz melody which I found very enjoyable. But what really came across well was the mixture of a speech by George W. Bush on the US economy, coupled with intermittent studio audience laughter. The pairing directly highlighted the albums critical nature of the current economic crisis, and served as an effective precursor to the title track, which required a bit of introduction to begin to grasp exactly what its purpose was.
Although not a perfect album, this definitely was an enjoyable listen, and serves as a great example of modern reexamination of hip hop, music, and the roles they play in our changing world.
Electro-ambient leader of the pack
Super ill album. Covers hip-hop, rock, classical, international. All woven together for an awesome chill experience from one of the pioneers of the genre. Keep it up Spook!
That Subliminal Kid!
This album takes you on a musical journey. I love all the elements that make up The Secret Song; a little classic rock (Dazed and Confused, No Quarter Dub) a lot of sick dj ing, some world music influence, some jazz, it's got it all. When I listen, I play the whole album. Definite Must Buy !
Born: September 6, 1970 in Washington D.C.
Years Active: '90s, '00s
Top Albums and Songs by DJ Spooky
||B-Side Wins Again||B-Side Wins Again - EP||5:39||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||Nu Bop (Version 2)||Celestial Mechanix - The Blue Series Megamix||2:46||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||The Pledge of Resistance||Not In My Name||1:30||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||September 12th||Not In My Name||3:59||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||Bloodletting||Not In My Name||4:10||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||Not In Our Name (Remix)||Not In My Name||4:28||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||The Pledge (Ill Bootleg MP3 Remix)||Not In My Name||3:53||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||Give Blood (Phantom Dancehall Mix)||Not In My Name||3:54||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||B-Side Wins Again||Drums of Death||5:33||$0.99||View In iTunes|
||Not In Our Name||Celestial Mechanix - The Blue Series Megamix||5:23||$0.99||View In iTunes|