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Girl Talk - Unstoppable

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Artist: Girl Talk

Album: Unstoppable

Label: Illegal Art

Review date: Apr. 6, 2004

As a former member of the goofball music-wrecking unit the Joysticks, Greg Gillis is quite familiar with the destruction of music and musical implements. On Unstoppable, the second full-length album by Gillis under the moniker Girl Talk, instead of keyboards and spastic rock, Gillis destroys pop, R&B, and dance music with meticulous flair. Gillis is often portrayed as a dance party vagabond in fluorescent garb, but Unstoppable, for all its sweaty beats and sexy grooves, paints a picture of Gillis that’s just as much mad scientist as oversexed party animal. Gillis’ manic experiments bring life to inanimate rhythms, and swap the personalities of unwitting samples in harebrained schemes to make bottoms shake and fists pump.

None of today’s pop artists are off-limits when it comes to Gillis’ grasp. Rap and R&B artists like Outkast and Missy Elliot, predictably, are disassembled, but not even the cat-eyed longing of Lisa Loeb can save her from the operating table, nor can Coldplay’s decidedly un-funky emotional anthems. Gillis proves to be a masterful arranger of samples; there always seem to be a million things happening at once, and every little snippet of sound seems to be perfectly in place. Gillis warps the pitch and speed of the original sound source when needed, and adds his own IDM beats and squiggles, but the samples he uses are every track’s main ingredient and, subsequently, the decisive stars of Unstoppable. Though there’s definitely a humorous aspect to Girl Talk, Gillis doesn’t simply aim for laughter or quizzical amusement, nor does he rely on combinations of samples just for novelty or effect. Unstoppable was created with the beats in mind, regardless of the source, and when something unexpected or funny pops up, it’s never at the expense of the overall puzzle; often these parts fit so seamlessly that they can slip by unnoticed. When Gillis loops a sped-up Hole riff underneath a sampled voice beseeching the listener to “Shake that ass, bitch, and let me see what you got,” it sounds surprisingly natural.

There’s no questioning that Gillis is a very gifted musical architect, but for the listener approaching this disc outside of the context of the dance floor, Unstoppable might seem lacking, in that Gillis adheres to many of dance and hip hop’s main precepts, and even as he deconstructs the individual pieces of the music, they’re rearranged in a way that usually follows the same formula that rules much of the music on the nation’s airwaves. This might seem a detriment to some, but could also prove to be Gillis’ best asset, depending on the route he chooses to take. He’s adventurous, to be sure, more than most, but Gillis’ could be right at home in the studio producing backing tracks for other artists, and – pesky copyright laws be damned – his approach could fit in well with contemporary hip hop’s love affair with the seemingly displaced sample. Like Jay-Z rapping over a chorus from Annie or Timbaland’s Indian-influenced beats laid under Missy Elliot’s rhymes, Gillis’ manic approach could be very successful indeed.

By Adam Strohm

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