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N.A.S.A. - The Spirit of Apollo

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Artist: N.A.S.A.

Album: The Spirit of Apollo

Label: Anti-

Review date: Feb. 23, 2009

N.A.S.A. is an exhibition hosted by Squeak E. Clean, a producer who’s scored several commercials for his brother, Spike Jonze, and DJ Zegon that fuses the disparate sounds of the Americas in an hour-plus swirl. (N.A.S.A. is the lofty yet kitschy acronym for North America South America.) Clean and Zegon are essentially curators on The Spirit of Apollo, bringing together and assembling Charli 2na, Chuck D, the Cool Kids, George Clinton, Ghostface Killa, E40, Kanye West, Karen O, Kool Keith, Method Man, M.I.A., Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Spank Rock, and Tom Waits in a single klieg-lit menagerie. That recounting, if you can believe it, isn’t even exhaustive; reading the contributor list in full suggests that Clean and Zegon were less interested in a hemispheric meld than, like, the greatest Spring Fling lineup ever, brah. If only the disk came with a six-pack – then we might have some entertainment!

Like many an international pact, N.A.S.A. is promising in concept but far from ideal in operation. Despite the size of the albums and its cadre of participants, the problems with Apollo can be summed up in two points. First, there is very little featured on Apollo that derives from South America. In fact, I can count only one true example: Seu Jorge. The only other feature of South Americaness – and this is being charitable to Clean and Zegon – is a ubiquitous conga played in the background of many a track. It’s nothing short of an affront that these gents couldn’t include anything a tad more substantive from an entire continent of music. So much for “breaking boundaries and borders,” one of Clean and Zegon’s stated goals in the liner notes – the developed North comes out on top, again.

Besides their inability to meet the very aims they set out for themselves, Clean and Zegon fail to do much of anything exciting with their all-star cast. For N.A.S.A., like its government homophone, relies on formulas – which is fine for astronauts, less so for pop that’s supposed to transcend classification. “The People Tree” and “Money” begin Apollo and set the rules that the album follows like doctrine: a fusion of blowout-comb funk riffs, the aforementioned conga, bicoastal rapping, and a singer whose participation is supposed to register as surprise. In the case of these two introductory songs, this vocalist is David Byrne. Once the novelty of hearing Byrne wears off – or, more truthfully, once the sense of novelty shifts to skeptical wonder that he ever agreed to this project – the underlying boringness quickly settles in. Can it really be the case that the intersection of North and South American music yields a soundtrack for the world’s most banal frat party? According to Clean and Zegon’s position, that answer is a resounding yes.

By Ben Yaster

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