I have long been indifferent towards New York City’s Jewish hip-hop magnates The Beastie Boys. I don’t dislike them, I don’t like them. In my world, they are just there. A respectable and moderately enjoyable troika of nerds with acceptable rhymes and a penchant for fun music videos whose fanbase is obsessive and tend to overstate the band’s contributions to the world of popular music.
While the band has sprayed to many musical fields in their 30 year tenure, the bulk of their critical acclaim and popularity is a result of their distinctive brand of rap which can be classified as quirky, catchy, intelligent, gimmicky or annoying – all depending on who you’re talking to. I cannot claim to be an expert on the Beasties. I do not own a single one of their albums, and until this morning, I had never even downloaded one of them. My familiarity with the group comes from their litany of video and radio hits, as well as second hand consumption from friends, so when my wife turned a new Beastie Boys video for a song called Off The Grid, I fully expected the punk inspired beats, odd rhymes, repetitive jumping, strange dancing, loud colors, wild hand gestures and fish-eye lens abuse that have long been a staple of their music videos.
Instead, we watched a fairly humor-less black and white video of the group playing in the studio set to a slow, five minute jazz-y space jam. I kept waiting for a Beastie Boys song to break out, but it never did. It stayed slow and vocal free. It stayed chill. I liked it. It had me interested and I decided it was high time I download a Beastie Boys album.
The Mix Up is a post-rock-jazz-fusion-whatever album from tip to tail and it is a surprisingly palatable offering from agroup who are more known for their aggressive punk rock influences than trippy, psychadelic ones. Perhaps my relative unfamiliarity with the band is what lead to my shock, but this lounge act-like easy listening kinda groove is quite a departure from what the casual listener would expect from the band. While there are definite tinges of organ-infested jazz in some of their songs now and again, for them to release an instrumental album with no catchy hooks or electronic trickery seems like an giant step in an odd direction and if I gave a damn, I would be quite interested in what die hard fans of the group think of this release. I, however, am all for established bands experimenting and trying new things, even when it misses the mark like Metallica’s St. Anger, I can applaud the effort.
It may sound like damning with faint praise to say that the Beastie Boys simply “pull it off” with The Mix Up, but I am having trouble drawing any other conclusion. Relative to what I expected, this album is fantastic. I would not have anticipated such a solid effort in this “genre” from this group who manage to prove that, beyond their ability to write addictive rap songs, they are fully capable of composing and performing some decent “mood music.” While the record excels in the area of impressing me (I am easy to impress), it falls short in the area of keeping my interest over the long haul, due in large part to it’s unchanging pace.
While each individual track stands on it’s own fairly well, the album as a whole is metronomic and lacks variety and tempo change. If you are looking for something that you can play as background music during a 45 minute tantric sex session, well then I think this is the album for you. Had they worked in some simple transitions from song to song to song, this album could be a fairly awesome single track release…but I suppose I am one of the few people in my age demographic who has the tolerance for one song that is 3/4 of an hour long. As currently constituted, the album would work well as background music at a party or perhaps to keep you from losing your fucking mind during a traffic jam.
Listening to The Mix Up straight through, though, gets slightly tedious after a few tracks. Songs meander slightly in and out of spacey psychedelia and acid jazz but Mike D’s inability to mix up his beats results in a somewhat monotonous listen. He is certainly not as bad as no talent fuckface Meg White. Unlike her, D can actually hold a simple beat and throw in simple fills every now and then. His most glaring deficiency is what this type of music requires most of it’s drummers, though, and that is improvisation. Tempo change and jagged beats are a more than just a welcome addition they are a necessary staple of any type of music that can fall under the term “jazz.” These are songs you can set your watch to, and every track on the album is within 10 or 20 BPM of all the others, which is not a good thing.
Adhering to the idea that “music is the space between the notes,” the rest of the gang does a superb job of creating simple sounds set to interesting rhythms. Ever the gear and technology whores, this album does not lack sweet effects and fantastic amplification and tones. While noone on this album gives a virtuoso performance on his respective instrument, they are all capable enough to create solid music and the anemic pace of the record is the only major mitigating factor.
Overall I would say this is worth a download and listen. You may like it, you may not. It may not hold the interest of those who crave loud, fast things, but The Mix Up surprised me and it’ll probably stay on my iPod for a while.