Mash-Ups and The Dizzying Trudge: Burning the Candle at Both Meh-nds

Cell phone self portrait in dingy dive bar bathroom. 3:06 am. 7 drinks in.
Cell phone self-portrait in dingy dive bar bathroom. 3:06 am. 7 drinks in.

The above dimly-lit, ridiculously-high-contrast, hilariously self-serious display of Internet Disease was taken at the crossroads of the night: that ever-important moment where one must decide whether to switch to water and maintain some sense of personal dignity or continue downing vodka martinis and secure oneself the task of sending contrite apology e-mails the next morning. I can’t remember what I chose, which could potentially be a bad thing. I still talk to all those people, though, and none of them seem to hate me (at least not more than usual), so I think I’m in the clear.

I’ve been working too hard and sleeping too little and writing too much and stashing it all away and going to shows and watching movies and writing about those shows and movies and submitting them to other publications and I’ve been terrible about returning phone calls and I’ve been terrible about responding to emails and I’ve pretty much been a gigantic fucking flake for the last month or so. There’s just too much going on– too much of everything, too much at once. I can’t really offer much in the way of excuse, though, as a more organized and well-adjusted person would probably be able to deal with this more expeditiously than myself– they probably wouldn’t have let it get this bad in the first place, by not taking on too many assignments at once and not putting things off for way too long as they idly browse reddit. Alas, as the song goes, “I’m 25 but I still act like I am 10.” That is an actual song, by the way. You should listen to it. It’s good.

I’m about to leave Buenos Aires for about 7 weeks. Two of those will be spent in New York, visiting my mom, sister, brother and friends who live in or around the area. The other five weeks will be spent in my hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, making up for lost time with my two baby siblings (one of which isn’t so much of a baby anymore as she turned 10 years old yesterday! Happy birthday Nicole!), my dad, my grandparents, my dog, extended family and the few friends who still wash up on the shores of that city every once in a while. It’s getting to be less and less peeps every year, as we get older and start building our lives elsewhere, we stop coming up with reasons to come back every year. My pool of “close friends” from back in High School was small enough already, factor in those who have uprooted elsewhere and it’ll probably be a quiet few weeks of hanging out with 2 or 3 close friends, spending time with my dad watching “Breaking Bad” and walking my dog a lot. And you know what? That’s pretty much exactly what I need right now.

This is the part of the entry where I remember this is supposed to be a music blog. Below this picture of my headphones you will find some words about music.
This is the part of the entry where I remember this is supposed to be a music blog. Below this picture of my headphones you will find some words about music.

Like I said earlier, I’ve been going to a lot of concerts. In the last two weeks I went to see Pulp, Lady Gaga and Dinosaur Jr. (which my ears are still ringing from). Tomorrow night I’m seeing Tony Bennett. And the shows have been a grand ol’ time (well, the Lady Gaga show was half-annoying), and I’ve been reminded of how much I love seeing live music. Surprisingly, however, I haven’t been spinning obscure Dinosaur Jr. b-sides or Pulp outtakes non-stop. Instead, what I’ve listening to non-stop for the last few days has been a compilation of mash-ups by mixmaster extraordinaire Isosine. A “mash-up” is the result of marrying two (or more– in the case of Isosine’s work, sometimes dazzling amounts of) elements from various songs to make a new creation. A very popular example of a successful mash-up is the now-classic amalgam of The Strokes’ “Hard to Explain” and Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle”. Check it here.

A mash-up like that is successful because it weaves the immediately recognizable vocal melody of Aguilera’s teenybopping debut single and the new-wavey fuzz of the Strokes backing track without hitting as much as a single bum note. Both tracks come together and transcend genre norms to form an exciting piece of music that exploits the strengths of both songs. Similarly, Isosine makes incredible sound collages incorporating pieces from rock songs, rap songs, pop jingles and more. Some of his songs are massive in scope. But the ones I’ve found myself drawn to are the simpler ones, where he recognized a pattern that moves through two songs that couldn’t be further apart in tone, tenor or subject matter… and brought them together to make something fucking awesome.

If you click the above player and recoil in horror upon recognizing the opening chords to Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, fear not. I have not gone insane. I’m not a sudden Bieber fanatic. Keep listening for a few seconds and, just when you think you’ll be met with Bieber’s pathetic yelping, what you get instead is the abrasive vocal stylings of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor spitting venom over that Radio Disney pop beat. This is Isosine’s most famous work (over 11 million Youtube views!), an absolutely wonderful mash-up of “Baby” and Slipknot’s brutal “Psychosocial”. And its appeal lies beyond the novelty value of hearing Taylor’s screaming over the Bieber track– it’s a genuinely well-crafted piece of music, every factor lining up perfectly, from the syncopation in the verses to the melody of the chorus, the oppressively bleak and apocalyptic lyrics contrasting beautifully with the instrumentation and countermelody. It’s just amazing. The whole thing is amazing. And I’d think it was amazing even if I didn’t know the original songs.

I just wanna be absolutely clear here: what Isosine does is more than simple cut-and-paste. This is not something that comes naturally to most people– browse mash-up videos on Youtube for five minutes and you’ll realize that most of them really fucking suck. Because it’s more than simply realizing that two songs share a similar chord progression. It’s about hearing the melodies intertwining. It’s hearing the harmonic spaces that are there to be filled. It’s about hearing twists and turns of performances. It’s realizing, instinctively, what fits where. It’s like…   like…  like those incredibly talented Asian kids who defeat Tetris on the hardest level at dizzying speeds and compete internationally. Basically, this is musical Tetris, and I’m pretty sure Isosine is Asian.

I present to you, as evidence of his genius, his most recent mix. Korn vs. Taylor Swift- “We Are Coming Undone”.

So fucking good.

Listening to these mash-ups, I kept thinking to myself “damn, I’d love these songs even if they were originals.” Because they’re just good songs, beyond the novelty aspect. But also, there’s something strangely satisfying about having these abrasive, aggressive vocals singing about anger and helplessness over these shimmery, overproduced poppy beats. And I was wondering if there’s an artist out there that’s doing something like that. I couldn’t really think of any. I mean, I can come up with dozens of examples of the opposite– pop vocals over heavy music– but not the other way around. Why isn’t there an artist out there making ridiculously catchy pop songs with aggressive, screamed vocals? I’d buy that album. Honestly. I’d buy it in an instant. Someone go ahead and make it.

Screamy, angry, catchy & cathartic pop music. It’s what the world needs now. Until that day, though, all we have is mash-ups.

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