Whether it’s casting freak rapper Kool Keith as the demented gynecologist Dr. Octagon, or transforming Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Kid Koala, and himself into post-apocalyptic anime superheroes in Deltron 3030, Dan “the Automator” Nakamura produces soundtracks for all the kooky comic-strip worlds in his head.
That might help explain Space Monkeyz vs. Gorillaz — Laika Come Home, a remix version of Nakamura’s 2001 sci-fi pop album Gorillaz. What could have ended up as a commercial wank-off of overblown house tracks is instead an adventure into deeper territory. LCH will undoubtedly leave the Gorillaz-embracing MTV set scratching their heads in bewilderment.
On this foray, the “remixers” are a trio of mutant cosmonaut monkeys who worship Laika, the dog that the Soviet Union sent into orbit during the Cold War, and honor her with an album of deep instrumental dub. Nakamura and his monkeys mostly avoid the temptation to ape dub’s godfather Lee “Scratch” Perry, though there are some recognizable homages on several cuts. Unfortunately, there are a few cuts that teeter on the brink of pop mediocrity, like the lightweight, Specials-style ska of “Lil’ Dub Chefin’.” But dub is a deep and expansive landscape, and Nakamura seems to grasp the genre’s possibilities. He also demonstrates an ear for offbeat vocalists, including toaster Earl 16 and U-Brown, the master of dancehall non sequiturs.
It’s nice to see that commercial success doesn’t have to mean compromise. Automator fans and acolytes of trippy, spliffed out dub will not be disappointed. Put on your favorite space suit, dim the lights, and fire it up. Hallucinogenic space bananas are optional.