If we honored the Wright Brothers’ first flight with an elaborate Blue Angels air show, would it humble their accomplishments? Better yet, how would Muhammad Ali feel if his commemoration meant having to get in the ring with Lennox Lewis? The Dimension Mix obviously intends no such harm to Bruce Haack or anyone else (in fact, proceeds from the record go to Cure Autism Now), but there’s an element of ironic tragedy in hearing artists, all of whom in some way owe their success to Haack, covering the same songs that could never bring him the deserved recognition.
Haack and his musical partner Esther Nelson pioneered electronic music by making vibrant, expressive children’s songs during the 1960s and 70s on Haack’s Dimension 5 label, and anyone from Beck to Mouse on Mars will acknowledge their indebtedness to those works. Problem is, rock history balks at lionizing children’s music, if not electronic music. So if we remember Haack at all, it’s most likely for showing Mister Rogers how a synthesizer works. Then again, Haack wrote some far-out shit, and expecting today’s hipsters to embrace instructional songs about spiders or medieval dancing is a tad unfair. Fortunately, we have a chic laundry list of indie artists willing to upgrade some of Haack’s catalog for the 21st century, acknowledging their own indebtedness to his work in the process.
Beck kicks off the album with a downright incriminating rendition of “Funky Lil’ Song”, revealing his springboard for the slacker-folk dabbling of Mutations and Sea Change. Likewise, “Liza Jane” sheds further light on Apples in Stereo’s psychedelic inspirations, proving they can cop non-Beatles artists, too. Eels offer up a surprisingly spirited cover of the Arabian-tinged “Jelly Dancing”, even if frontman E’s lecherous slow-fuzz-grind corrupts Nelson’s all-too-innocent lyrics: “Now wiggle everything you wish and shake like jelly in a dish.” But Gen X disillusionment aside, the degree of separation between Haack’s crude pop songs and modern-day psych-rock is so nuanced, one listen to Oranger’s take on “Catfish” stales many of today’s purportedly “far-out” bands.
Then there are those artists who engulf Haack’s songs with their high-tech studio wizardry, creating entirely new monsters. Stereolab’s “Mudra” mutation, which we recently frothed over in Tracks, bypasses Haack and Nelson’s didacticism (“People of India often tell stories by dancing, and such a dance is called a Mudra”), instead catapulting the original’s coarse electro-raga into the 28th century. DJ Me DJ You parlay similar transcendentalism, launching the already trippy “Soul Transportation” to the Dark Side of the Moon and back with Haack and Nelson’s vocals intact for spiritual guidance. With their claustrophobic beats and turn-on-a-dime mash-ups, Fantastic Plastic Machine probably go overboard on the Dimension 5 megamix “I’m Bruce”, but such hamming occurs regularly throughout the album. In fact, Dimension Mix‘s overarching sense of eagerness only testifies to Haack’s expressiveness, whether in Money Mark’s meticulous instrumentation to the quirky biology lecture “Spiders” or Danielson Famile lamenting having “Nothing to Do”. The Beatles? Heh, they never reduced this many self-conscious artists to a second-grade reading level.