Drake v Sufjan Stevens and the history of the mashup album

The latest mashed-together album brings delicate indie and chart-topping R&B together but whats the secret to making the perfect Franken-mixtape?

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Drakes barked barbs or sad-face mumbling were woven around the delicate strums of Sufjan Stevens glacial tinkering? Really? You have? OK, weird, but good news for you because Tumblr has created Six Swans, a mashup album that does exactly that, so named because of Stevens Seven Swans album and Drakes name for his hometown of Toronto.

Compiled by Riveyonce Cuoknowles (your number one source for rivers cuomo and beyonc knowles, apparently) a Tumblr account thats also prone to the odd Sufjan/Drake fan fiction the 11-track album pulls together various mash-ups from around the internet and is currently still available for free on Bandcamp. Surprisingly, the whole thing works quite well especially opener Death Over Dignity, which blends Stevens delicate Carrie And Lowell opener with Drakes Over with the pairs different musical approaches simultaneously coalescing and jarring to create a sort of sad aggression. As with most mashups, Six Swans relies on the initial thrill of an odd juxtaposition, its success or otherwise down to how long that feeling can last before the novelty wears off.

Mashups (or blends or bootlegs or bastard pop songs) arent new of course your friends and mine Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman actually made the first one in 1956 but since the invention of the internet, and the rise of the bedroom producer, theyve become more and more prevalent, either as standalone songs (who can forget A Stroke of Genie-us, ie Genie In A Bottle mashed with Hard To Explain), compilation albums (2ManyDJs hugely influential 2003 album As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2) or albums that focus solely on blending two previously released bodies of work.

Perhaps the most famous of the latter category is producer Danger Mouses The Grey Album, released in 2004. A mashup of the vocal a cappellas from Jay Zs The Black Album and the Beatles self-titled record, AKA The White Album, it went from intriguing art project meant for a few friends to a global success that inspired a slew of less inspired copycat albums. Again, the album works because it feels like more than just the sum of its parts, with Danger Mouse, AKA Brian Burton, recontextualising both sets of songs to create an exciting hybrid. Rather than aim to piss anyone off, The Grey Album is more a celebration of both artists, which, for better or worse, offers up fewer knowing winks than Six Swans.


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What The Grey Album achieved was a breakthrough into the mainstream media, as opposed to just being an odd novelty created by a lonely student after too many jazz cigarettes, which the internet goes mad for for a day or two (Entertainment Weekly named it the best album of 2004, Jay Z said it was a genius idea and Paul McCartney called it a tribute). In its wake, however, came the similarly straight-faced The Purple Album (Jay Z mixed with Prince), The Double Black Album (Jay Z mixed with Metallica) and The Black And Blue Album (Jay Z mixed with Weezer). Exhausting, right? But worse was to come, with the sheer availability of hip-hop a cappellas seen by some as an excuse to knock up any old nonsense.

While acts such as Girl Talk and 3LAU looked to bring something fresh and fun to the table or in the case of the latters Dance Floor Filth, capitalize on the EDM explosion others were keen to jump on the authentic mashup bandwagon. 2009s Jaydiohead, for example, seemed to get attention purely because Radiohead feel like a band most lonely wannabe musicians have tried to mashup using Cubase or whatever it is. 2011s The Juicy XX, meanwhile, aimed to combine Notorious BIG and The xx, but as <a draggable=”true” href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ5vnNIa3Xg” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Islands Is The Limit shows, sometimes songs just arent meant to be spliced together and no amount of lo-fi texture can change that.

What Six Swans and the new crop of mashups such as Good Boy, d.E.E.p Web (Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino) and Yeezer (Weezer songs mashed with Kanye Wests oeuvre) show is a move back towards the off the cuff, more light-hearted experimentation following the post-Grey Album critical canonization. As the creator of Yeezer Alex Hodowanec told Radio.com, his mashup album was the result of him listening to Weezer a lot with his mates one lost summer. The first song I started working on was the first song on the album which is Kanyes song Through The Wire mixed with Beverly Hills, he explained. I just kinda figured Beverly Hills was the most iconic Weezer song. It was really just a matter of finding songs that had similar feels and tempos from that point on. Sometimes its as easy as that, with the thrill of a good mashup being as disposable as one play and then as Jay Z once said its on to the next one.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/oct/13/drake-sufjan-stevens-mashup-albums-history

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