Occasionally, a band comes on the scene who release several albums met with escalating praise. From Yoshimi Battles the Hip Hop Robots to 24 Hours, the Kleptones have only been getting better with every album. The Kleptones, however, aren’t a normal band. They’re a DJ who goes by Eric Kleptone, who makes mashups. For those unfamiliar with the concept, mashups are (at their most basic) the vocals of one song overtop of the music of another. At their most complex, a mashup can be over eight minutes in length, sampling as many songs as The Dust Brothers or DJ Shadow in their prime, unified by a vocal line or two–or even with an entirely invented collage of soundbites overtop of the music. I listen to The Kleptones not because they make mashups.
I listen to the Kleptones because they write songs that happen to be made of other people’s songs.
For their entire career, they’ve been following the typical rock band arc. You put out an EP, experimenting around and finding your sound (Never Trust Originality). You put out two albums that focus and refine your sound, the parts of it that make you distinct and unique from your peers (Yoshimi, A Night at the Hip Hopera). There might be a live album and a few more EPs between these albums and your next work. For serious artists, this is usually a double album of uniformly high quality work (24 Hours). Then, if the audience is lucky, you make a pair of albums dividing your sound into two categories, often electric and acoustic (Uptime/Downtime).
What you’re also doing along the way is discarding songs. Sometimes because you could never properly express the idea, sometimes because the thoughts didn’t mesh, sometimes simply because your album is 80 minutes long already and you need to cut something. Often, these songs form such a mass that they need to be investigated for any gems you may have discarded with the inevitable trash. The gems form the classic rock standard, the B-Sides album.
I’ll put it this way: when your favourite band releases a b-sides compilation in lieu of a new album, where a new album would fit into their release schedule, be worried. When a band releases a b-sides comp barely 8 months after their latest double album, be very happy. The former category of b-sides comp is likely to be filled with muck and completely irredeemable. The latter is considered by the artist to be as worthy of your attention as the previous release.
Shits & Giggles is that worthy. It opens with a crash, letting slip the dogs of war with Surf Mountain. Perry Farrel howling over a whirling frenzy of music provided by Trentemøller. It’s a surfy, hallucinogenic and loud opener, letting you know that like with Public Enemy, Kleptones b-sides are winners. It’s followed up by my favourite version of Queens of the Stone Age’s Sick Sick Sick. By cutting the tempo in half and abandoning the key signature, what was a frantic, discordant metal song becomes a rapped ode to getting nasty. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you mustn’t be human.
Flik Flok effortlessly combines the best of Dizzee Rascal and Ke$ha to make what should be everyone’s choice summer jam. To clarify, the best part of Dizzee Rascal is Dizzee Rascal. The best part of Ke$ha is not Ke$ha. I am convinced that Eric wants to show the world that Elton John should be playing heavy metal. First he slaps him on top of Rage Against the Machine for 24 Hours; now I find out he’s also put him over top of Billy Idol. Elton has never kicked more ass than he does on a Kleptones record.
Unlike previous double albums 24 Hours and Uptime/Downtime, Shits & Giggles is song-based. The songs don’t flow into one another forming a 70+ minute experience of music like they did previously. As a b-sides album, this is expected. The album’s pacing suffers accordingly; opening with a classic rock/metal tinged exploration and quickly transitioning into a dub section is as tiring as the journey away from Jamaica and back into rock vs. technology. Thankfully, the individual songs are so blisteringly good that you won’t notice until you find you’re in the mood for tracks 8-10 and not 11-15 on some days. This normally comes after the seventh listen. This album merits more than seven listens.
Much fuss has been made over the songs Kill and Smash, found at the center of the album. These two songs are six years old, b-sides from Queen vs. Hip Hop project A Night at the Hip Hopera. Saying they fit in perfectly on this album, six years after their creation, is possibly the highest compliment I can bestow them. They deserve it. Never has criticism of the music industry come faster or more furious, or from more sources. If rock can be political and hip hop can be political, the intersection can be as political as both together. The Kleptones prove that, time and again.
The back stretch of this album doesn’t drop the ball either. From Psycho Dreams to Lung Cancer, the album maintains a standard of quality unmatched by contemporary artists. The last five songs all manage to surpass that standard. To say these are my among my favourite mashups is to discredit them. They should be called what they are. These last five tracks are some of the best songs ever published. By turns raucous and unrestrained, deviant and darkly sexual, daring and building, unexpectedly visceral–these are simply head and shoulders above the songs you’ll hear if you turn the radio on right now. You know the riffs, you know the hooks, you know the words, but the new context is surprising and can make you love something you swore you hated. Thanks, Eric!
The album closes with a song that should play like a joke. Disc 1 of 24 Hours ended with Jon Bon Jovi singing Wanted Dead or Alive over George Michael’s Careless Whispers. To close this album, George Michael sings Careless Whispers overtop of Bon Jovi. It’s made because it’s an easy inversion. And yet, even this song stands as more than the sum of its parts.
The Kleptones may not be your favourite mashup artist, but they are certainly the world’s finest. Indeed, their b-sides can kill your a-sides any day. FOUR STARS
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