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Smash-Ups

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Smash-Ups
Sounds like … several of your favorite Christian pop and rock artists thrown together in a blenderAt a Glance … though it's a fascinating concept, this is a novelty remix album that will either impress or offend your ears

Smash-Ups represents a natural evolution in the art of remixing and a sign of the times in popular. Thanks to affordably priced computer software and the age of digital downloads, savvy DJs and music geeks have in recent years devised a new genre referred to as the "mash-up." The concept is simple: they blend the vocals of one song with the instrumentation of another. Usually this is done with the aid of vinyl remixes that feature the vocals more prominently, if not completely a cappella. Purists will insist that the songs be combined manually with turntables, but today's technology allows for amateurs to accomplish the same by digitally filtering out the unwanted music and adjusting the speed of one song to fit the other.

Of course, all of this is made considerably easier if you have access to the original multitrack masters of the recordings. Inspired by the relatively new phenomenon, Sparrow Records utilized their large catalog of artists who fall under the Chordant Distribution umbrella and commissioned a number of mixmasters to create their own smash-ups, including Tedd T. (Rebecca St. James, ZOEgirl) and David Larring (Matt Redman, Avalon). A successful mix in this case is to blend together two seemingly disparate songs and make them sound as though they belong together—the more bizarre the pairing the better. The trick primarily lies in the speed adjustment, and it should be noted that altering the background music is usually much easier than altering the lead vocal. Too much one way or the other and a vocalist can sound like a munchkin or a troll.

To best illustrate the concept, the most natural pairing on Sparrow's Smash-Ups is the simple mix of "Entertaining Angels" by the Newsboys over the music of dc Talk's "Colored People." Anyone familiar with these songs can hear that they are so similar in style and rhythm (and for that matter, the same key) that very little had to be done to fit them together. In fact, mix-meister Rusty Varenkamp didn't do nearly enough—tobyMac's rap about racial harmony has been left in the mix, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the prayerful plea expressed in the lyrics of "Entertaining Angels."

Bearing in mind the creativity and artistry in selecting and creating a successful smash-up, there are some excellent examples to be found on this disc. The most bizarre example also involves the Newsboys, taking their anthemic classic "Shine" and dramatically raising the pitch of it to fit the strong rock blasts of Pax217's "Tonight." The result is a complete transformation that's a lot of fun. In this case, Rusty Varenkamp goes so far as to adjust the rhythm of the chorus in "Shine" to fit the syncopated lead-in of the chorus to "Tonight."

Equally strange is Rebecca St. James's "God," pitched down and merged with the modern reggae rock of Earthsuit's "One Time." Oddly enough, the two songs work together, and the irony is that Earthsuit is one of Rebecca's favorite bands. Another track takes the playful hometown hip-hop of "TN BWOYS" by GRITS and matches it to the rocking sounds of Switchfoot's "You Already Take Me There." They go together like peanut butter and chocolate, as do the aggressive dance pop of ZOEgirl's "Dismissed" over dc Talk's equally aggressive "Jesus Freak."

Not all the smash-ups on this disc are as intriguing. Because tobyMac has always incorporated rock in his music, both as a solo artist and with dc Talk, it's not surprise that his song "Yours" works with a slightly slower "Pressing On" by punk rock band Relient K. Steven Curtis Chapman's "Live Out Loud" is slowed down just enough to fit with Out of Eden's "River," and the final result is only interesting after the initial surprise of the combination. The award for the album's most pointless smash-up goes to F. Reid Shippen's mix of John Reuben's "Do Not," matched to an unrecognizably slowed version of The Benjamin Gate's originally fast-driving "All Over Me" that deprives the listener of the fun of guessing the two songs.

Still, only two of the tracks on Smash-Ups could truthfully be considered poor. The album's first track is a complicated blend of "Dive," by Steven Curtis Chapman; "All Fall Down," by GRITS; and "Get Down," by Audio Adrenaline. While it's commendable that Tedd T. found three songs that work together musically and thematically, it's a bit too densely constructed to listen to all of them at once, and GRITS's rap is over-utilized to the point of annoyance. It's a tolerable listen, however, when stacked next to the mix of Carman's embarrassingly out-of-date "Who's in the House?" rap (which is only magnified next to the quality hip-hop artists on the album) with the driving dance beats of ZOEgirl's "Even If." The track is mercifully the last on the disc, so most people can end the listening experience with track 9, and savvy CD experts are sure to intentionally scratch out the track with a pen-knife.

The question is, who exactly is Smash-Ups geared to? You can't possibly appreciate this album unless you are familiar with the Christian pop/rock source material, and from there you need some sort of appreciation for remixes—that is, a tolerance for messing with the classics. This is an interesting experiment that's bound to charm or offend, but Sparrow should at least be credited with trying something that's completely new to Christian music. However, it may inspire an undesired effect—aspiring DJs are bound to be encouraged by this and try creating their own smash-ups, thus furthering the dilemna of illegal music downloads. At least this is a reasonably priced disc, so decide for yourself whether this collection of unusual unions is worth owning. It is, however, most definitely worth a listen just for the sheer novelty of it.