Occasionally an album is so darn fun that it coasts on a wave of good will, and this is that album. Tales of the Expected falls into the plundered beat category that is currently occupied by Night Shift, Spring Break Tapes and the brightly colored 7″s of Howlin’ Records. A no-prize to those who remember Howlin’ Records, and a second no-prize to those who remember no-prizes. No, two no-prizes do not make one prize like two negatives make a positive. But multiple samples occupying the same space do make a positive impression.
In creating this album, Total Normal (Thierry Vaudor) seems to have gone shopping at a sonic boutique. He’s travelled aisle by aisle, grabbing a bunch of his favorite bass lines, a few snippets of random dialogue, lots of stray beats (on sale!), scraps of melody, and other odd finds like a cowboy hat, a set of scratches, a miniature casket and a ray gun. All of these went into his shopping cart, where they were jostled, shuffled, and bruised; then into shopping bags, which were carried to his trunk; then to his home, where they were smoothed out on ironing boards and sorted; then to disc, and in January, to wax. Not that this was easy; making everything fit was like playing Tetris. For example, a hum, a swatch of violin, a choral sample, a gallon of groove and a break all had to fit into the opening minute of “Simba”, just to make room for all the other sounds eagerly waving their hands from the center of the toybox. Each song is its own little mix, a nod to Coldcut, Colourbox and even MARRS. But apart from the cheerful “Mr. Sandman”, nothing is that obvious. It’s not a mash-up; it’s a meld.
The fun inherent in listening to this sort of music is that one gains a sense of happy nostalgia for songs that one may or not have heard in the first place, but that one suspects one has. Many will be tearing their hair out as they attempt to answer the question, “What is that? I know it!” But that’s what friends are for, or maybe Shazam (although using the Shazam app for this may fry the circuits in one’s phone). The old has become new again, or at the very least, the old is new, because for many ears, this will be the first time around. Tales of the Expected is anything but expected, and Total Normal is anything but normal, which is part of the album’s charm. Under normal conditions, one might prefer rock and pop to exotica and spoken word, but on this album, every toy rests on the same shelf. Old westerns and comedy specials seem to unfold on the same channel, as if pleasantly stuck between stations. Thankfully, their New Art is eminently appealing; no one will wish to climb the roof to adjust the antenna.
The album is intelligent, groovy and deep; as it progresses, the samples grow more complex. Later tracks, “Krautball” in particular, seem to be more like fully-composed pieces than amalgamations of influences new and old. Could a resurrection of Journeys by DJ be far behind? On the basis of this album, Total Normal could give even classic mix albums a run for their money. (Richard Allen)