Mike Relm's new album is serious. But I don't mean it lacks fun in any way. The album is both a stray from some of the comedic live mash-ups he is famous for and a symbol of Relm's recent success and his ascent into the "serious" music business. But what's interesting to consider is how Relm got to be where he is -- he's always embraced a quite paradoxical blend between the silly and the serious.
When Relm is performing, the stage distends with pumping beats that are often out-there mixes of '80s classics, cartoon themes -- the most unlikely hip hop/electronic tunes. He makes his audience laugh, but all the while dresses in a full black suit and works the tables like the best DJs out there. His new album Spectacle, released on Radio Fried Records, trumps the old party mashups for original beats and hip hop tunes, showing a maturity that will surely be embraced by his true fans and perhaps disregarded by the party people.
There's no doubt that it's hard to recreate the energy of a live set on an album. And it's also pretty clear that a DJ faces a lot of pressure when he decides to branch out in the way that Relm did with this project. But he made good choices with the mix, and kept the energy up, which is a good first step. And tracks like "Body Rock" make you stop and remember that this guy's ultimate job is to help people party, and at that he's an expert. No question.
Some of the sounds used on the album feel a little dated, but not necessarily in a bad way. Relm blends tracks that use '80s-sounding synths and piles them onto modern dance beats. The song "Tron" is a perfect example; robotic sounds blend into house bass drum sounds, followed by an '80s pop synth melody.
The first single from the album is "Every Time You Break My Heart," which is broken into three different versions (as is the title) and interspersed throughout the record. While it feels like one too many versions of the same song, the chorus (with vocals by Adrian Hartley) is infectious. Each version features a different rap, which changes the song, but only slightly.
A couple of highlights on the album are "The Cube" and "Vertiglo," not solely because they are instrumental tracks. "The Cube" is a song that builds from a basic beat and bass line to a fully danceable club track, and "Vertiglo" is similar -- a repetitive but excessively fun mix. These two songs show Relm's creativity in a way that gets buried by the talents of the MCs and vocalists in others.
The flow of the album is broken up with short clips: changing channels on TV, a split second movie sound bite, TV news and odd commercials. It's unconvincing that these tracks are necessary, but they add a little humor and novelty to the album, at least for the first few listens. And Relm being Relm, there had to be some quirkiness in there somewhere.
Mike Relm performs at The Mezzanine on Friday, December 5, 2008 with Peanut Butter Wolf. He will also be showing off his visual mash-up skills at this gig. Spectacle is out now.
Emily Logan is the News Editor for The Bay Bridged.