Turntablism is a weird thing to get into. It can be easily described as “instrumental hip-hop,” but that’s not quite accurate, at least not for this album and for pioneers of the genre like DJ Shadow and Rjd2. Although many turntablists and DJs produce for an MC to rap over, that’s certainly not all they do. Their instrument is the turntable and their record collection, so they use other artists’ works as samples, then throw in beats and pieces from other songs to create their own music. Legal samples or not, sometimes the things DJs do are very interesting, experimental, and innovative; other times, it doesn’t sound good at all.
Kid Koala’s third album, “Your Mom’s Favorite DJ” was recorded using two turntables and a four-track. This is very true to turntablism and DJing, and provides a nice effect of down-to-earth producing. Some of the samples are intriguing, too. There’s one in a song that describes the different sounds DJs make by scratching the record; another song, “Gimme A K!” contains an audio clip from the film “Anchorman.” The conversation a few characters have about playing the jazz flute is played over a sample of real jazz flute playing with a hip-hop beat, ending with Will Ferrell announcing that “jazz flute has always been a passion of mine,” in his matter-of-fact Ron Burgundy voice.
Lots of turntablists open albums with introductions about either themselves, or about the music, a precedent started by DJ Shadow. Kid Koala is no different, and his samples talk about “who is it that puts the music on the turntable” and scratches and a nice clip of a man saying “it goes like this” just as the music starts.
Some tracks, like “Slewtest” 1, 2, and 3, are very rock-oriented. The main melody comes from hard guitar samples, then the scratching and added beats and background noises make for a more interesting track. Likewise, with the opener “Heeeeears Koala.” Others, however, have loads of trumpets and horns and saxophones, and appear to come from older music. Others still are techno- and electronically-based. Some are simply beats and music that make the main attraction of a story or narrative more exciting. “Lunch with Pavlov” for example, does just that. A captivating beat is behind someone explaining Pavlov’s experiment with dogs and metronomes, then relating the results to music and humans, saying that “As a musician, the two beat pattern is in every rock-and-roll method. It is the old boogie-woogie beat superimposed on rumba and samba beat, and the two beats can hypnotize a young man or woman within twenty-nine minutes so that they can get them to do anything.” These and other samples talk about music and its power, especially vinyl records and turntables.
The ultimate feel of the album, created by the various genres and audio clips being sampled, is one of intrigue. The information is stimulating and the things people talk about, like Pavlov, are at least entertaining. The music itself is not technically music, it is samples and scatches, however that creates music in itself. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Kid Koala is able to make melodies out of one man’s forgotten trash. The tracks are not so much rap-able, so it is less than ideal for an MC, but Kid Koala has proved in the past that he is capable of producing for rappers including MF Doom, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and Gorillaz. This album is more for his own sake.
This CD is not one to buy online or steal. The packaging and liner notes are fascinating. Paying homage to his genre’s medium of choice, the not-obsolete vinyl record, Kid Koala designed the CD packaging to resemble a record’s. The case is a gatefold, the liner notes are in a booklet tucked away in a sleeve, and the disc comes in a white sleeve to put in the jacket, just like records have to keep them protected. The liner notes themselves are neat, giving a brief intro and history to the album and Kid Koala’s career, and also including fun Kid Koala-related photos, including one of a DJ spinning on the subway, with passengers clutching their ears. The layout of the CD is reminiscent of vinyl music as well. A record has two sides, and each song is right after the other, continuous, so everything plays without you touching anything. With everyone’s iPods on shuffle, the art of track order and album layout is lost. On YMFDJ, the CD has two tracks (“right side” and “left side”) and each track has the songs playing continuously, directly into each other. Track one is really nine songs and lasts 14 minutes and change. Track two is seven songs and almost twenty minutes. Not to mention the five-second cricket chirp, “Bonus Cricket,” which Koala decided should be track three. “Isn’t that tiresome?” you might say. No, it isn’t. It provides for a neat affect and recalls a thought-provoking task that is being lost. It adds to the album’s charm.
To be fair, though, you need to be in the mood to listen to this kind of thing. On my first listen, I had an almost guilty feeling that I was a hipster, sitting here listening to something that most people would probably not love, but not object to, either. Like, some people might pretend to like it to fit in with other hipsters pretending to like it. With me, though, this isn’t the case. Granted, I do feel like the only white boy who listens to hip-hop sometimes, but I listen to what I feel has good, musical beats, and intelligent (or at least not miserable) rhymes. So I consider new turntablism albums a good thing, and it interests me. If you are curious, or a fan of new things and the out-of-the-box, then this is a good buy. It’s even a good buy if you want to get an introduction, just get into DJing and getting accustomed to this type of thing, but a better one might be what is considered the first turntablism album “Endtroducing…..” by DJ Shadow, or even Rjd2’s first album, “Deadringer.” I’m sure that there are people out there who think that all the DJs and likeminded music sound the same, but they don’t. There is a difference between Eminem’s beats behind “Forgot About Dre” or the beats (ahem, beat. Singular. And three notes.) that Nitti provided for Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” and actual music sampled together by Kid Koala and Cut Chemist.
Fun Fact: According to the liner notes, Kid Koala was directly responsible for two marriages. During a live performance, one man proposed to his fiancée and she said yes. Two years later, they brought their baby to a Kid Koala show celebrating his graphic novel release, Nufonia Must Fall. At another Nufonia-related event, a guy popped the question, and when Koala dedicated a “slow, ballad-y routine” to them, she said yes. So Kid Koala’s music is not only entertaining and fun, but also an instrument (har har!) of love.
Boston, April 2009