Every once in a while, you come across a CD that so strange, so unlike anything you have ever heard before, that when you try to describe the thing, you discover you’re at a loss, completely incapable of forming a well-thought, articulate, descriptive sentence. Instead, you sputter, stammer, and wind up copping out with a generic, “Well, it’s, you know, weird.” When asked what exactly do you mean, you just crinkle your nose, and idiotically shrug, “You know. Weird.” And thanks to some space cadet from Norway named Kaada, I’ve been reduced to such an adjective-disabled dullard.
Kaada’s album, called Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time, is a highly confounding piece of work, one that’s capable of moving a person to tears one moment, and royally creeping a person out the next. Kaada is apparently quite popular over there in his Nordic homeland (the album was originally released there in 2001), and depending on your reaction to this album, the collective taste of Norwegians will seem either very impressive, or highly disturbing.
So what does the record sound like, you ask? Well, it’s sort of similar to The Avalanches, in how Kaada cuts and pastes snippets from various songs to create aural collages of his own, but unlike the Australian outfit’s joyous energy, Kaada takes a more minimalist approach, taking a small handful of samples, and layering the sound with sparse electronic beats, live bass and percussion, as well as some guest vocals. It’s like being forced to sit next to a crazy old man who’s listening to an old AM radio, rolling the dial, and singing along to whatever he comes across. Kaada’s choice of songs, namely obscure pop gems from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and his bare-bones accompaniment, has somewhat of a David Lynchian quality, one that evokes warm thoughts, but also gives you the feeling that there’s some pretty nasty business happening beneath the surface. It’s that blend of old kitsch with new technology that makes Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time so compelling.
When Kaada gets it right, it’s stunning. “Care” is something resembling a Purple Rose of Cairo style love song between people who live in different eras. Revolving around a sample from “I’m So Glad You Love Me”, by Juanita Rogers and Mr. V’s Five Joys, with live bass and percussion underneath, the sample of Rogers’ voice is mixed seamlessly with present-day singer Allan Steed (a member of the Harlem Gospel Choir), and the result is something heartbreakingly beautiful. The ‘50s pop ballad-meets-synth pop “Burden” is just as wonderful, mixing a gorgeous, soulful vocal sample from an unknown source with Kaada’s own vocals. “Honk” is rousing, as Kaada combines a distorted, boisterous rock sound with a contrasting Motown soul chorus that features more great singing by Steed. The sultry, smoky “I Need You” utilizes a vocal sample from an obscure Czech jazz singer, with a very simple accompaniment of piano and snare drum. And the title track uses various samples and instrumental touches to create a cool, modern day soul song, as the talented Steed and Kaada trade vocal duties.
The album’s weirdest tracks provide the most fun. “Black California” is a work of twisted genius, sounding like the soundtrack to the Beach Movie From Hell, a demented take on ‘50s and ‘60s American culture that obviously sounds composed by someone who lives thousands of miles away from sunny California. The song uses a thundering drum beat (a bit reminiscent of the Propellerheads), some good old, always creepy Farfisa organ, and little vocal tributes to American culture from 40-some years ago, quoting lines from “Tutti Frutti” and “Surfin’ Bird”. Its combination of the cute and the menacing makes it sound like if the Trent Reznor did a deranged remix of that “Mahna Mahna” song from Sesame Street. In direct contrast to the rest of the album, the mesmerizing “No You Don’t” is a straight-up excursion into electronic territory. Oddly similar to some tracks from that Gorillaz album from a couple years ago, it blends a slow but insistent hip-hop beat with brooding synths, a haunting melody, and some highly desperate-sounding vocals by Kaada.
Fortunately, although it’s a bit of a trying album, Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time clocks in at around 39 minutes, so it never overstays its welcome. It’s befuddling, yet beautiful, and despite one track that doesn’t fit (the almost-electroclash, lame computer-love metaphor “Mainframe”), it’s a fine tribute to pop culture by an immensely talented musician. And it is weird, but in a good way. Trust me on this one.