Mike Relm‘s new album is serious. But I donâ€™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 â€“ heâ€™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 themesâ€”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 that show a maturity that will surely be embraced by his true fans and perhaps disregarded by the party people.
Thereâ€™s no doubt that itâ€™s hard to recreate the energy of a live set on an album. And itâ€™s also pretty clear that a DJ has a lot of pressure on him 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 â€œBody Rockâ€ make you stop and remember that this guyâ€™s ultimate job is to help people party, and at that heâ€™s an expert. No question.
Some of the sounds used on the album sound 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 â€œTronâ€ is a perfect example, as robotic sounds blend into house bass drum sounds, and soon after comes the 80s pop synth melody.
The first single from the album is â€œEvery Time You Break My Heart,â€ 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 infecting. Each version features a different rap that changes the song enough, but still rather slightly. The mood of the song darker than most of Relmâ€™s work, and is complimented by the excellent work of the vocalists.
A couple of highlights on the album are â€œThe Cubeâ€ and â€œVertiglo,â€ not solely because they are instrumental tracks. â€œThe Cubeâ€ is a song that builds from a basic beat and bass line to a fully danceable club track, and â€œVertigloâ€ is similar â€“ a repetitive but excessively fun mix. These two songs show Relmâ€™s creativity with beats and sounds in a way that gets covered in other songs by the talents of the MCs and vocalists. Both types of songs are done well, but the instrumental tunes display the raw talent more transparently.
The flow of the album is broken up with short clips of the sound of changing channels on a television, with a split second bite of sounds from movies, TV news and odd commercials. Itâ€™s unconvincing that these tracks are necessary, but they add a little humor and novelty to the album at least the first few listens. And Relm being Relm, there had to be some quirkiness in there somewhere.
Relm will perform at The Mezzanine on Friday, December 5 with Peanut Butter Wolf. He will also be showing off his visual mash-up skills at this gig. In the meantime, get his album Spectacle, out now.
This post was originally written for and is republished from KQED Interactive.