The Difference Between Gold and a Lump of Coal
I’m not supposed to talk about how much I love Karsh Kale’s 2001 album Realize. It doesn’t matter, because I’m reviewing a different record entirely; Redesign is an album of remixes from Realize, but it’s supposed to stand on its own. Ultimately, all records do—you don’t have to have heard One Nation Under a Groove to get down with Uncle Jam Wants You, for instance. So yeah, it’s the New Criticism, everything exists on its own terms, no work of art owes anything to its predecessors or descendants, don’t review the resumé, just review the album itself.
However, considering that we never reviewed it here in the first place, let me just say that Realize was by far one of the greatest albums released last year, and that Brooklyn-based Kale is one of the world’s finest drummers and tabla players and techno technicians and songwriters, and his first record was a stunning mission statement of his “Indian classical science-fiction music from New York” aesthetic. There, I said it, I’m done.
Now: Redesign. There’s always a risk that remixed versions of albums will fall short of the original, and I was afraid that—oh, yeah, we’re not doing the comparison thing. Doesn’t matter. A remix exists on its own as an independent piece of music, it’s an individual in its own right the same way a clone would be, all that stuff. So, the album itself.
Which starts in thrilling style with the Ming and FS mix of “Saajana”. It’s a slippy sort of computer dance number with guttural vocal tones and a tabla’n'bass rhythmic foundation that takes it almost but not quite into IDM territory. I’m not supposed to mention that this version is based on the last one and a half minutes of the original song, but it is, I said it, nothing bad happened, it’s all okay. When the synths start really freaking out about two and a half minutes in, you wonder where the remixers are going with this all, but it stays on track and keeps the layers building and building, until it rounds the post with a great echoey float, and then a renewed intensity. Great opening track. Not as good as the original “Empty Hands” on Realize, but we’re not discussing that album now.
We’re talking about this one, which I think strikes the perfect balance between being respectful of the original record but not too respectful. You have to figure that at least part of this is because Kale himself is involved. He remixes himself on three tracks, and only one of them (“Deepest Blue”) sounds anything like it did on the first disc. “Destroy the Icon”, which wasn’t on the first record at all, is a Kraftwerk take, and Kale’s collaboration with Mighty Junn on “Light Up the Love” is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear at Robot High School’s prom. He likes his own stuff, which is a plus, but he’s not intimidated by it, which is a double plus.
Others weigh in as well. Indian homeboys MIDival PunditZ do a pretty drum’n'bass take on “Home”—fortunately, this version sounds nothing like Navdeep’s pulsehop version at all, which manages to be as close to and as far away from the original as they can get. (No, “pulsehop” isn’t a genre that you missed hearing about; I just made it up. But I hope it catches on. It’s kinda dope.) And Redesign closes with a third version of “Home,” this time by Mukul from the London-based Anoshka Collective. This one’s wild and bold in that it contains no danceable material whatsoever. All the guitar lines from the original are now done on synthesized windchimes, and it builds in intensity without even putting down a single thump anywhere on the track. Dangerous move, but ace.
The bigger-name remixers get their day: Bill Laswell acquits himself nobly with a dubbish version of “Empty Hands” (big surprise there from the dubophiliac Laz), and DJ Spooky sounds pretty good (if overly thought-out) on “One Step Beyond”, and Banco da Gaia turns “Distance” into Thunderbirds Are Go-crossed-with-Deepak Chopra. Picture that, if you will. But even lesser-known DJs rock the house here: DK Pyor Amor lends her funky pizzicato magic to another “Empty Hands”, which focuses much more than does Laswell’s version on Shahid Siddiqi’s timeless line: “Can you tell the difference / Between gold / and a lump of coal?” To me, this is kind of a challenge from Pyar Amor: I’m this good at just remixing. What the heck are you good at?
Which is, as you know, a devastatingly good question, no matter who’s asking it.
I wouldn’t say that this is a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination. There are parts that sound pretty perfect to me, and others that don’t work as well. Which ones? Oh, who cares. You should buy it anyway. And buy Realize while you’re at it, too.