In the urban area of Los Angeles, I would not be surprised if Steve Aoki could walk into any music-centric bar and get any drink on the menu free of charge. Even if those outside of California generally find his name to be unfamiliar, Aoki has become a staple of the electronica music scene on the West Coast. Though not a dedicated songwriter himself, Aoki has made his mark through work as a DJ (under the DJ Millionare alias) and founder of the record label Dim Mak Records. Spin some records, have some drinks, chat up some nice club-goers… doesn’t sound that hard, right? Sure, it could be an easy job if you let it, but Aoki perfects his craft in a meticulously impressive manner. He has developed a steady reputation for endorsing the best electro-tinged acts on the scene today, with an assortment of variously stylized artists also owing him quite a bit for his exposure (Bloc Party arguably “broke out” on Dim Mak Records). Though success appears to run in the Aoki family (his father founded the Benihana food chain and his sister, Devon, has achieved popularity as an actress), Aoki appears destined for an equally impressive spotlight in his own right as a musical entrepreneur of sorts.
Reviewing a mix tape is quite a different affair from a standard record. Most of the songs have been released already and a few have even achieved great popularity, causing the emphasis to be largely focused on the flow and general selection of the tracks involved. On his debuting release, Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles, Aoki compiles his favorite remixes and electronica tracks from 2007. He has little or nothing to do with the process of production or songwriting on any of the tracks, which begs the question: How is Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles worth any more than some mix tape compiled on a hip music blog? Well, for one thing, Aoki’s reputation has allowed him to cast vocalists in the vein of Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat), Mickey Avalon, Todd Fink (The Faint), and Uffie, all of whom contribute noteworthy tracks to preexisting songs. These additions don’t raise the songs to new heights in quality, but they don’t mar them either. Bays lends his trademark whimpers to the frantic rush of Datarock’s infectious electro-funk in “Fa-Fa-Fa” and they fit surprisingly well in the process. While not a drastic overhaul by any means, it is hardly subtle either.
Many of the remixes on Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles serve to capitalize on the greatest moments of the originals, with Alkan’s remix of Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” being an applicable example. Instead of diving straight into the song, Alkan drags out the introductory guitar lick for about a minute, shortly to be added upon by a bassy synth that adds a whole new perspective to the song. Though the addition of dance elements remains enjoyable, the tinge of art-rock remains prominent, being the main reason for the enduring enjoyment of Alkan’s remix. The explanation for quality on the selected tracks throughout Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles are exposed in a similar manner, whether it be Weird Science’s remix of Bloc Party’s “Helicopter” or MSTRKRFT’s popular remix of Justice’s hit “D.A.N.C.E.”. Instrumental elements of dance in the vein of drum loops, newly added synths, and modified production techniques are implemented on a grand scale, allowing enjoyable usage of the dance genre while simultaneously clinging onto the original genres of art-rock and indie-pop in commendable form.
Using such guest appearances as a worthy incentive of sorts, some could even call Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles a boasting release for Aoki, as several artists featured on the album — specifically Mystery Jets and Scanners — are signed to his own Dim Mak Records. Whether one would like to classify it as a subtly clever attempt at promotion (for his name or the artists he represents) or simply a mix tape derived from his love for music, the fact that it is generally a proficiently compiled compilation should not be overlooked.
With crafty remixers like MSTRKRFT, Erol Alkan, Soulwax, and Weird Science taking on the likes of Justice, Klaxons, Franz Ferdinand, and Bloc Party on one steady release, it could perhaps be one of the most sought-after mix tapes covering 2007 for those who have never read an up-to-date music blog or a credible music publication. But for the rest of us, it will often be found that many of these songs are already on our iPods. Regardless of the nature of the release, Steve Aoki’s Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles provides an organized medium for a few of the most infectious remixes of 2007. Though Soulwax’s remix of Klaxons’ “Gravity’s Rainbow” is truly the only song that makes a justifiable case for being better than the original, Aoki’s release will at least open some doors to artists like Datarock and Mystery Jets, who show in their presented quality that they deserve the exposure.