[12 March 2009]
Sometimes, though justifiably, remix albums get a bad rap. Besides the fact that anyone with a computer can remix a song these days, the end product typically is less than impressive or depreciates the quality of the original piece. In those cases, you cannot blame anyone for hating on a “new” version of a song that essentially turns the piece into a noisy mess and/or loses the track’s integrity. Then, there is the dreaded stereotypical hip-hop remix featuring a DJ screaming every 30 seconds and one or two new verses that really add nothing substantial. Luckily, though, there are always exceptions. Those include the classic remixes done by Pete Rock and J Dilla as well as more recent efforts such as AmpLive’s phenomenal Rainydayz Remixes project. And now, we can add this, the Sole & The Skyrider Band Remix LP, to the pile of remix CDs worthy of your time.
But be forewarned: a prototypical hip-hop remix album this is not. As any fan of this anticon.‘s co-founder knows, Sole’s take on rap is hardly conventional. Like his labelmates Doseone (of Subtle and others) and Yoni Wolf (of Why? and others), Sole spits essays filled with punchlines, self-deprecation, braggadocio, and social criticisms at a sometimes blistering speed. And if you can’t track down the lyrics to his songs, I bid you good luck in comprehending exactly what he’s saying. But that’s part of his, and his cohort’s, appeal. They supply depth, sometimes too much depth actually, to a genre that is currently in the public’s cross-hairs for being overly superficial.
And for Sole’s new group’s debut, which originally dropped in 2007, he took his syllable-happy shenanigans to another level. With the Skyrider Band behind him, the emcee went to darker territory, though he was never one for sunshine. The album’s apocalyptic, end-of-the-world overtones were littered throughout both the lyrics and song titles, so those without a cheat sheet had a least a semblance of what was going on. For example, here’s a trio of appropriately-named tracks that bleed social-criticism: “A Sad Day for Investors”, “Nothing is Free”, and “The Sound of Head on Concrete”. Clearly, something was bothering Sole when he penned this album. So, with that, it’s only fitting that the recently remixed version of this album is even more primed for the world’s end. Who can blame Astronautalis, for example, for transforming the already solemn “A Sad Day for Investors” into an epic, distorted anthem full of gritty drums and scratchy pianos. “Magnum” features similar sounds as Sleeper blends laptop drums with noisy, shoegazing guitar as Sole offers lyrics based on the Jonestown Massacre.
Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? Well, it’s obvious to anyone who listens to music that truly beautiful, touching songs and albums are mostly crafted out of despair, longing, fear, anger, and every other extreme emotion out there. So while this album deserves a slight knock for its overwhelming bleak outlook, it deserves the same amount of credit to sticking to a firm script. Sure it might turn off the happy-go-lucky crowd, but who the hell thought they would play this anyway? Well, to be fair, they are fairly serviced into a few tracks on here, such as the out-of-place remix of “On Cavalry” by Pictureplane. The track essentially turns into a rave anthem by the end, which is disappointing because it at first sounds more like Sole’s hope is catching its second wind. Instead, it just gets noisy and scatterbrained. Luckily, its brightness is balanced by an equally upbeat but more focused remix of “The Shipwreckers” from Otem Relik. The producer adds keys and a wheezy melody to the track that was once devastatingly morose.
What’s most intriguing piece about this abstract hip-hop puzzle is how a who’s-who of left-field producers have somehow captured an overall balanced and cohesive sound. While there are a few bumps in the road, like the disappointing “The Bridges Let Us Down (Thavius Beck remix)”, everyone on here basically kills it. From Radical Face’s reverb-drenched guitar and ominous piano on “Nothing is Free” to Odd Nosdam’s droning ambient synthesizers on “One Egg Short of an Omelet”, Sole & The Skyrider Band Remix LP is a noisy batch of songs that’s sure worth your time. Just don’t expect to walk away with a grin on your face.