Diplo: Decent Work for Decent Pay

[11 February 2009]

By C. T. Heaney

The name “Diplo” is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s cute, easy to remember, and conjures the image of a massive, formidable stomper that’s hard to take down. On the other hand, it refers, quite literally, to a dinosaur, and makes for an easy metaphor if the man who adopts this name should ever lose his Midas touch. Decent Work for Decent Pay collects remixes, productions, and originals from the past four years, providing an overview of the DJ’s dizzying resume of activities. While it certainly doesn’t chronicle the nimble beatsmith’s transmutation into a lumbering beast plodding towards the end, it’s a scattershot compilation, demonstrating that it’s not possible for Diplo to retool everything into gold.

The centerpiece of the album is the remix of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”, featuring syrupy Southern rappers Bun B and Rich Boy. At the time this came out, it was a podcaster’s wet dream, and the hipster underground went wild for its third-world-meets-first-world ghetto fabulousness. But now that the tune has gone Top Ten in the U.S., charted worldwide, and been featured in several blockbuster films, even its staunchest advocates have started to move on. Its inclusion here feels more obligatory than anything else, since it’s easily the most well-known track Diplo has dropped of late.

A few of the album’s remixes work well, occasionally surprisingly so considering the underlying material. Bloc Party’s “Where Is Home?” is transformed into a stuttery electro jam reminiscent of XL’s Various Production collective, spinning the song in nervously energetic new directions. Claude von Stroke’s “Whistler” gets a trancey overhaul; Diplo’s version is a bona fide club banger that rivals the booty-quaking force of the original. The whistle-tastic Peter, Bjorn and John tune “Young Folks” receives a dub-flavored treatment that almost makes up for the bore that is the original (sorry, bloggers). The bouncy remix of Samim’s hit “Heater” is pure fun, but it edits out most of the zydeco-flavored accordion that made the song so infectious in the first place.

Elsewhere, things get drearier. A deconstruction of Hot Chip’s “Shake a Fist” breaks the tune down into amusing tidbits, but never really goes anywhere. Perhaps no one on the dance floor will notice, but it’s hard to take seriously if you’re actually trying to listen to it. His take on Spank Rock’s “Put That Pussy on Me” is busier, but no less forgettable, than the original. This, as well as Kano’s “Reload It”, seems to be here more to showcase the emcees than to demonstrate Diplo’s production skills. The remix of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” is flatly disposable: the world simply didn’t need another take on this song. (In an unexpected bounty, the song will actually be left off of the official release of the album due to legal issues, though it appears on promotional prereleases.)

The disc is most enjoyable on the Diplo originals, where he leans toward the expansive, Shadow-y sound world he fashioned on his 2004 debut, Florida. “200” goes by all too quickly, with its dirgelike chord progression and wispy melody nearly drowned out by a clattering, fuzzed-out beat. “Newsflash”, which kicks off the comp, is an altered version of a track that originally appeared on Florida, and “Way More Brazil” spices up Florida’s “Way More” with a little of the South American electro-funk that he’s championed recently. Some of that work also appears on the album, such as Bonde do Role’s “Solta o Frango” and a remix of CSS’s “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above”, but none of it shines the way “Brazil” does on its own.

Decent Work for Decent Pay is choppy and uneven, as many compilation albums are inevitably going to be. But it goes in so many different directions (some expertly, some unimpressively) that it’s hard to tell what, exactly, Diplo is trying to accomplish by putting it all here in one place. Part of the problem is the choice of substrate; a substantial number of these songs just aren’t that fabulous in the first place, and playing with the beats can only do so much for them. The disc proves that Diplo is in no danger of imminent extinction—but a little raptor-like focus, and a better diet, wouldn’t hurt.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/70019-diplo-decent-work-for-decent-pay/