Noise Pop 09: N.A.S.A. taps an ambitious spirit
With more than two dozen headliners mashing and hanging together, The Spirit of Apollo (Anti-) promises pop ecstasy of the heavenly, spatial variety. DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean, the two wheelers and dealers behind the project, aspire toward a greater good, namely, bringing together people of disparate musical and geographical backgrounds hence the name North AmericaSouth America (N.A.S.A.).
The Spirit of Apollo arrives a decade after Prince Paul's double whammy of all-star concept albums, A Prince among Thieves and his collaboration with Dan "the Automator" Nakamura, Handsome Boy Modeling School's So, How's Your Girl? (both Tommy Boy). At the time, A Prince among Thieves praised in a memorable Guardian essay by Oliver Wang titled "A Great Day in Hip-Hop" towered as a complex opera of friends turned enemies, a Greek tragedy performed in the urban street.
N.A.S.A. seems inspired by that earlier era of overstuffed musical junkanoos. But they don't get too deep. After all, the global village should be fun, right? So instead of dense narratives on international privatization, outsourcing, and proxy wars, Zegon and Squeak produce party fodder such as "Samba Soul," with Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Q-Bert, and "There's a Party," with George Clinton and Chali 2na. The songs emphasize good, clean fun. A few of the rappers notably Method Man on "N.A.S.A. Music" sneak in f-bombs, but most are on their best behavior. Even Amanda Blank, notorious in club circles for waxing lyrical about poontang and peckers, keeps it PG on "A Volta."
The Spirit of Apollo appears safe for urban bourgeoisie with small children, but will anyone else find it listenable? Squeak built his name producing albums for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs he's a producer of the engineering-and-microphone-placement variety, not a beatmaker à la Kanye West. Zegon's musical career in Brazil is less known. As a result, the music doesn't really boom and bump, instead opting for peppy skitters of funky hip-hop.
The duo soars, however, by launching incongruously great combinations. As two artists devoted to grotesqueries of the criminal and pornographic kind, Tom Waits and Kool Keith make a perfect match, even if the Gorillaz-like lurch of their "Spacious Thoughts" is hardly provocative. And the hipster dream pairing of West, Lykke Li, and Santogold over the Madonna-lite electro-pop of "Gifted" makes for a shining pop moment.
It's that all-celebrities-are-friends-with-one-another myth that makes The Spirit of Apollo an intriguing dinner party or, more accurately, a VIP-clogged backstage at Coachella or South by Southwest. Naturally, West and company talk about how cool they are and the burdens of fame. But with an hour-and-20-minute runtime, The Spirit of Apollo talks your ear off. It's as if you got to the party early, got stuck cleaning up afterward, and at the end could only conclude, "Damn, that was a long-ass album."
With Flosstradamus, Wallpaper, and DJ Morale
Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $18 advance
444 Jessie, SF