Last week, I got a package from Anti- in the mail. When I saw it, I forgot myself in front of my co-workers and jumped up and down in an unadulterated display of excitement, because I assumed it was Neko Case's new record, Middle Cyclone (and ya'll know how I've been chomping at the bit to hear some new Neko). Alas, it was not. And I was disappointed. Until I realized that what I was holding in my hot little hands was N.A.S.A.'s (it stands for North America South America) international debut, The Spirit Of Apollo. Why was I excited, you ask? Because in 17 tracks, N.A.S.A. (Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon) employs more music legends and up-and-coming indie It Kids than you could ever possibly hope to cram onto the same stage at the same time (all right, you probably could, but with great difficulty). And while there are a lot of pretty straightforward hip hop collaborations on the album -- like the appropriately-titled sixth track, "Hip Hop" (KRS-One, Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre) or "N.A.S.A Music" (Method Man, E-40 and DJ Swamp) -- the most interesting tracks on the record are the fruit of some serious musical odd couples.
On "The People Tree," hip hop legends Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) have a metaphysical conversation in rhyme; between verses, David Byrne croons the chorus with assistance from a group of children. Then there's "Spacious Thoughts," in which Tom Waits and Kool Keith growl an enigmatic refrain together. And even though dance jams dominate the record, N.A.S.A. made some room for silky soul ("Way Down") and reggae hybrids ("Money," "A Volta").
In the liner notes, N.A.S.A. helpfully provides a mission statement: essentially, the duo aims to bring dissimilar artists from around the globe together in the name of unity. But the album didn't need any explanation; the theme of the record is present both in the group's eclectic production approach and in the metaphysical questions many of its lyrics raise. Start making your mental "Best Albums Of 2009" list notes now, guys: I can pretty much guarantee that this record's gonna be on a lot of those come December. You can pick up The Spirit of Apollo on February 16; until then, check out the video below for "Money," a co-lab featuring David Byrne, Chuck D, Ras Congo, Seu Jorge and Z-Trip.