tremble clef

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mint Royale, "The Effect On Me" (2005)

At this point in time, it's hard to use samples of old soul songs without raising the specter of Moby, and I think we all agree that he's ghoulish enough as is.

It's thus tempting to pay no attention to Mint Royale's "The Effect On Me," since the formula is familiar. The formula being: pick a bluesy lament, preferably obscure. Say, Jean Wells' "Have A Little Mercy," found on a cultish but canonical collection like one of Dave Godin's. Sample from it, not the obvious hook that is the chorus, but a line or two from a verse. It's a good trick. Selected properly, such a line can turn from a supporting bit to the main hook, and all without making you appear like you took the obvious way out. Plus, a decontextualized line has the added effect of making it seem as if we've joined something in progress, but in which the singer seems mired. Why does my heart feel so bad? Why does my heart feel so bad? Why does my heart feel so bad?

Although "The Effect On Me" ventures further afield and takes an entire verse from Jean's original -- "I never, ever thought I would live to see the day/That I'd be running out on a man this way/Baby, you don't know the effect you have on me/You got my mind all twisted and I can't wiggle free" -- it, too, nevertheless seems as if it's stuck in a groove. The song begins with what sounds like a record being played backwards, or tape being rewound; then, a piano pounds gently and a guitar strums along. After the first use of the Wells sample, the big, crashing drums and synths comes in. On one level, that's it for the song, structure-wise. But, on another level, the song also mutates with each iteration. The drums get louder, more intense, and are eventually joined by more and more instruments: a riff played on guitar; some nervous, taut strings; and the increasing prominence of that record-played-backward effect. As the song continues, the whole thing in fact becomes shockingly dissonant. At one point the intrumental passage starts up before the sample stops, for instance, and at the penulitmate moment (before calm is restored), the record almost seems at a breaking point, on the verge of dissolving into a kind of atonal chaos. Of course, from one perspective this is a clich├ęd way to express "tumultuousness" -- and the effort to "wiggle free" from it -- but, for a pop record, this is at least a little unusual, if not downright brave.

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