Album Review: Duck Sauce, "Quack"

Until "Quack," its debut album, DJ-producer duo Duck Sauce had only released five singles in five years. But as the sum of two already successful parts, the pair's influence across the pop spectrum was evident: Veteran house-music provocateur Armand Van Helden had landed chart-toppers in the United Kingdom and remixed Tori Amos, Katy Perry and others; turntable prodigy A-Trak (real name Alain Macklovitch) had scratched on Kanye West albums and tours, and his taste-making Fool's Gold label has helped introduce the world to Kid Cudi, Danny Brown and other cool-kid favorites. When the duo joined forces in 2009, its impact deepened, in subtle and less subtle ways. Bruno Mars' obsessively retro video for 2013's "Treasure" looks an awful lot like Duck Sauce's obsessively retro video for 2009's "aNYthing"; even Ylvis' comic 2013 anti-hit "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" might have had a much harder time catching on with audiences had Duck Sauce not primed them for absurdist dance pop with "Barbra Streisand." Coasting on a Boney M sample, with no lyrics except the titular diva's name repeated in the non sequitur style of The Champs' 1958 "Tequila," the song hit No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart in 2010 and garnered a Grammy nomination. It's a gleaming example of the kind of music Duck Sauce excels at making -- global party jams so goofy and universally likable you could play them at your wedding or at a 7-11 store opening. Even Glee covered it.

But with Daft Punk raising the stakes for album-length disco, Duck Sauce wisely -- and successfully -- aims higher. Quack has concept-album pretensions: A-Trak and Van Helden bookend their songs with hilariously strange spoken interludes, comedy skits and recorded prank phone calls that recall 1990s Wu-Tang Clan or early De La Soul. And the entire album is built on unexpected, dusty samples, in the spirit of Beastie Boys' 1989 magnum opus Paul's Boutique: "It's You" is crafted around an obscure Bruce Patch rockabilly track; kinetic "Radio Stereo" draws liberally on The Members' 1982 pop-rock "Radio"; and "NRG" breathes new life into Melissa Manchester's 1985 commercial flop "Energy." Much like A-Trak's Fool's Gold roster, Duck Sauce hits the forgotten sweet spot where hip-hop and dance music intersect.

But given its insistence on muscular rhythms, this album seems to have a more basic purpose: to make you, in the fitting words of the Beasties, shake your rump. The entire affair has a bright, seductive swagger, like a Vegas cocaine high. Some may try to label Duck Sauce's sample-heavy secret sauce as "post-original" copycatting. But A-Trak and Van Helden would likely take those barbs as compliments. They repurpose dance music's past for their own intentionally kitschy, party-starting creative ends, and on Quack, it's blatantly obvious they're having a blast while doing it. Just take a look at the album's art: a cartoon Mona Lisa, reimagined with a duck beak.

-Jason King


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