Album: Spirit of Apollo
Comments: If fantasy sports, all-star teams, super groups, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts have proven anything, it is that America loves the idea of collaborations. The idea of the biggest and brightest coming together to make something is always enticing, especially in the world of music.
Given this inclination for collaboration, N.A.S.A's Spirit of Apollo is a music dork's wet dream. Founded by L.A producers Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, N.A.S.A (which stands for North America / South America) is a vessel for uniting people of different genres and cultures together under the universal idea that making music is cool. As if this hippy, free-love ideal wasn't enough on its own, Spirit of Apollo contains some of the biggest and best names in both hip hop and indie rock. Including artists like Kanye West, Karen O, Chuck D, David Byrne, RZA, Santagold, Ghostface Killah and Tom Waits (Tom Waits!), on paper this album is the best idea of all time, ever.
The album even lives up to this insanely high standard on occasion. Listening to Ol' Dirty rap from beyond the grave while Karen O sings the most adorable hook of 2009 on "Strange Enough" is both compelling and tragic. "Spacious Thoughts," which pairs Kool Keith and Tom Waits, is another genius track that can only come from two innovative artists combining forces for a 4 and a 1/2 minute march of awesome (Tom Waits really can't do any wrong, it seems). "The Mayor," which pairs Ghostface's drunken-master prose with the endless confidence and smooth delivery of the The Cool Kids, is far and away the strongest track on the album and a definete candidate for "Song of the Year."
Sadly, Spirit of Apollo can't live up this unreasonable expectation forever. The sad truth is that the majority of the tracks are little more than novelty. It's interesting on the first listen to see who is paired with whom (kind of like prom), but by the second and third spins, the album's flaws being to stand out. Too many tracks are samey and poorly produced, too many songs suffer from their ham-handedness, too many tracks collapse under the weight of their stars, and too many songs are forgettable. "Money" features a rare uninspired verse from Chuck D and a nonexistent contribution from Seu Jorge (he of The Life Aquatic fame), and "Gifted" featuring Kanye West, Santagold and Lyyke Li is an absolute mess from start to finish.
While Spirit of Apollo does yield some truly good tracks, most of the songs are only as good as long as one's fascination with the collaboration's last. Still, no album could ever match up to the collaborations in the heads of listeners all over the country and N.A.S.A's heart is definitely in the right place, so maybe the album deserves a break. While it's worth checking out, it'll never replace the fun of mixing and matching bands in your own head.
Key Tracks: The Mayor, Strange Enough, Spacious Thoughts
Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal