Staying inside all the time can drive you stir-crazy—just ask a writer on deadline sometime. (A rock critic even.) Nevertheless, if you’re going to become a hermit, you might as well do it in style, and what Evanston, Illinois’s Eric Haugen and Ryan Bassler lack in suavity and flair they make up for with sheer doggedness and idea mongering. Maybe too much so—there’s no way any normal person would want to sit through all six CDs of A Century of Song, the box set the duo, who record as LMP (La Musique Populaire), spent most of two years recording in their basements and issued late last year in an extremely limited edition: 100 copies, one for each year of the century it alternately celebrates, mocks, and just tries to get through.
Whether that makes it any more like the century we live in now than the one six years past us is your call. But if the notes didn’t tip you off—and since most of the people who hear this will do so via MP3, the notes probably won’t—you might never guess how little basic respect these guys tend to have for their source material. Sure, it seems ridiculous on paper to turn “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925) into electro-funk, but in the air it’s one era of hot music talking to another even if the guys holding together the tin can and the string couldn’t possibly be less black. Eventually, it can be hard to tell the goofs from the genre experiments. “Yakety Yak” (1958) is done with the broadest possible Dylan impression this side of Minneapolis’s 400 Bar’s annual Bob soundalike contest, while “I Found a Million Dollar Baby” (1931) is a surprisingly well-done 10-minute faux-krautrock drone.
Still, the set’s best joke (and song) is also one of its subtlest. “Hits of ’69” (guess the year) isn’t just a medley, it’s a flat-out swipe of “Stars on 45.” Haugen and Bassler steal the beat, the methodology, the acoustic guitars that underpin everything, even the breathily clueless vocals. What they don’t steal is the obviousness, because every successive fragment is more bizarrely chosen than the last, climaxing for me with the gleefully dumb chant “Miles runs the voodoo down/He runs that voodoo down,” which goes into an actual jazz-fusion lyric, Pharoah Sanders’s “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” (Zappa, Procol Harum, John & Yoko—twice—and “Fuck Cheer” also make appearances.) It is—how did they say it in the last century?—groovy, man.