N.A.S.A. – [Album]

Tuesday, 03 March 2009

It has been said that the measure of a musician can be gauged by their versatility. When removed from their established comfort zone, will they still be able to turn in an inspired performance that simultaneously does their reputation justice and still has an element of “them” in it, but also works within the constraints of the host artist's muse and style and doesn't attempt to steal the show from that? It's the finest line to straddle and will spell good fortune and accolades for everyone if done well, and be viewed with a dismissive and laughable revulsion normally reserved for such institutions as the Ford Edsel if done poorly. Needless to say, it is an endeavor seldom attempted by any but the most confident performers, but it is the basis for NASA's newest effort.

Collecting performances from literally every corner of the musical spectrum (including appearances by Method Man, David Byrne, Chuck D, Gift Of Gab, Karen O, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Tom Waits, George Clinton and MIA to name only a few), NASA masterminds Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon have redesigned the basics for song construction The Spirit Of Apollo: after assembling instrumental tracks that incorporate elements of Brazilian funk, reggae, electro-clash and hip hop, the duo has matched and mish-mashed diametrically opposed artists together to provoke each other and coax the best, most interesting performances in the name of making an impression. The results are different each time and some unexpected champions emerge, but the consistent benefactors of such competition are the tracks themselves.

While the different voices that appear on The Spirit Of Apollo do change the tenor of the tracks on a song-by-song basis, none of them are able to wrest complete control from the producers. Clean and Zegon harness the contributions of everyone that lends a hand here and use the best strengths to play off each other (the Karen O/Ol' Dirty Bastard, Tom Waits/Kool Keith contributions are an excellent example of that) but while the basic sonic palette is the same, no two tracks paint the same kind of picture; instead, like a set of interlocking stones, they fit together and build one mosaic.

That mosaic is pretty intricate too. With the beats remaining largely in a hip hop foundation, the overlaying vibes range from celebratory (John Frusciante, RZA and Barbie Hatch feel the funk and party ike it's 1999 in “Way Down”) to silly (the closest o a phoned-in performance is MIA's in “Whachadoin?”) and from warm and inviting to hard and confrontational (sometimes with the same personnel – in “The People Tree,” David Byrne holds court over what sounds like an electro-folk political rally in Brazil before the singer gets caught in a headlock and made Chuck D's bitch on “Money”). The verdict is always out on who will come away on top, but that's part of the fun of The Spirit Of Apollo – each track pulls from similar sources which places the onus on the vocalist to not tank their own moment.

Each track comes away clean and beautifully too which is a credit to the producers. On paper, it would be reasonable to assume that The Spirit Of Apollo might unravel at any moment, but it never does. This time out, everything falls into place in a perfectly charmed way – it would be incredible if such an endeavor came together so powerfully twice, but at least they got it this one time. The Spirit Of Apollo is an achievement worthy of applause.


NASA official website
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The Spirit Of Apollo is available now. Get it on Amazon .

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