DJ Spooky

The Secret Song

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, has been a busy man over the last six years- constantly touring, speaking, remixing and even publishing two books with MIT. Throughout all that time, Miller has been thinking; turning his thoughts on the financial crisis, global politics and music over in his head, lining up his ideas, ordering them. The Secret Song, his sixth full-length album under the DJ Spooky moniker, shows evidence that he has long left behind the narrow confines of hip hop, embracing a wealth of collaborators from a wide variety of musical spheres.

It’s not an album that gives up the full extent of its riches easy but the title track, though, gives listeners an indication of what’s to come. It features a sly, dreamy rhythm with narration in Mandarin by Chinese novelist and economist Jing Zhou. The English lyrics, written by Miller and translated by Zhou, are available for download from the DJ Spooky website and read like a laundry list of economic terms: “Financial crisis/ Financial derivatives/ Overseas investment/ The sustainability of economic growth.” “The Secret Song” can be appreciated in purely musical terms, but listeners are expected to work in unpacking the meaning. A similar case can be made for the Middle-Eastern rhythms and tabla of “Salt Satyagrana” and the single “Azadi (The New Complexity),” featuring Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim and released in support of Iranian democracy. It’s poetic imagery, courtesy of the Sufi poet Rumi (“I am tired of/ Flimsy friends and/submissive companions/ I am blue hearing/ Nagging voices and meek cries/ I desire loud music/ Drunken parties and/ Wild dances,”), is a stark contrast to the dry factsheet lyricism of “The Secret Song.”

Increasingly, DJ Spooky has left simple turntablism behind, operating more as a conductor of cultural collisions than as a mere DJ manipulating pre-recorded music. His is a deft touch that sees Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” become the junction of high and low music cultures as guitar samples mesh with strings, courtesy of the Golden Arm Ensemble and arranged precisely for this purpose. Other moments though, when his politics are more overt, such as “Myxomatosis” where outtakes from George W. Bush speeches on economics are accompanied by a laugh track, come off as unnecessarily heavy-handed. Far more satisfying are collaborations like “Known Unknown” featuring Mike Ladd and Thurston Moore, with its funk bass and swirling guitar distortion, or the jazz-fueled “Heliocentric” and “Point-Counterpoint,” with it’s breakneck drum beats.

The Secret Song, according to DJ Spooky, is about the overloading effect of digital culture. Typically, access to on-demand digital information makes things easier, but that’s not the case here. So much has been encoded into these densely layered songs, that they have spilt out of their packaging, with lyric sheets and translations requiring downloading and googling. The DJ Spooky website further claims that New York City is awash in iPhone readable bar-codes that will expand the listening experience, an experience that already draws from across genres and around the world. For listeners willing to put in the effort, The Secret Song never ends, but increases to consume all the energy and attention given to it.

by Sean Marchetto
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