Tape Review: DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s ‘Enchanted’

DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ

Enchanted

(Not on Label)

The 2010s were a decade where, more than ever before, our childhoods were being sold back to us. Everything from superhero reboots, Star Wars sequels, and a live-action Disney films campaign, to remakes of beloved classic games such as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Crash Team Racing, to Weezer’s Teal AlbumGhostbusters, Ready Player One, Pixels, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the Jordan Peele-hosted The Twilight Zone, and even a damn Charmed remake, altered and re-contextualized the memories of many of our youths, to… varying degrees of success. Nostalgic is a helluva drug, as they say, and when you’re a junkie, you’ll settle for bad product: we certainly did. Catering to this insatiable need to re-experience the comfortable familiarity of the past with a slightly different coat of paint has proven quite lucrative, if wanting artistically. More often than not, watching the things you held dear when young exploited by millionaires and billionaires for profit as an adult is more depressing than charming. It takes purity, joy, love, imagination, and an attention to detail to properly re-peddle the past, and DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ has all the ingredients necessary to brew a heady magic potion with Enchanted.

Enchanted, like other projects where old, vaguely familiar samples and the ways they are manipulated and presented are at the core of the music, is a mix you can drive yourself mad chewing the fat on. Try recalling an event in your life that happened 20 years ago: can you describe, in perfect detail, that event? Most likely, you cannot. You can pick out the major players, perhaps the setting, and the essential bullet points, but you’ll wrack your brain in vain trying to truly remember that event: it’s worn and faded, like the page of an ancient tome. As such, if gone to with the wrong frame of mind, Enchanted can be an almost frustrating listen as you furiously attempt to pinpoint every sound that sparks a flicker of an old memory, to no avail. This isn’t the case with every sample and every person, of course: events and the recollection of them are personal. You’ll find ‘anchor points’ sprinkled throughout the album that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the hazy, claustrophobic mind dive that Sabrina has pieced together.

One of the most obvious and likely universal will be the sample of Liz Phair’s “Explain It to Me” on “Starting to Fall In Love With You”, and you’d be hard pressed find a better example of just exactly what Sabrina does than this bubbly dance-pop bop. When considering “Explain It to Me”‘s place in the subconscious of the average individual, there are two likely origin points: first is the album it was originally released on, 1993’s Exile In Guyville, and second is 2003 teen drama Thirteen. The subject matter of the song itself is less than cheery (seeing a personal hero at their absolute lowest), and the context of inclusion on Phair’s vicious album or Catherine Hardwicke’s tumultuous cautionary tale of falling in with the wrong crowd don’t particularly imbue the song with an air of positivity: yet “Starting to Fall In Love With You” is a pure upper, building itself upon the chorus of “Tell him to jump higher / Tell him to run farther / Make him measure up / Decades longer than you” (or “Ten times longer than you ever should”). In context, this relates to propping up an idol in your mind and holding them to an unreasonable standard they can’t possibly sustain, but on “Starting to Fall In Love With You”, it reads far more simple and innocent: young adoration, a middle or high school crush. All the negativity is sliced away: the verses that would reveal the song’s original meaning are discarded, the once weary, stumbling guitars are lifted and tempo’d up, energetically dancing like a girl excited for a party, while Sabrina’s accessible house beat rounds out the shot of distilled joy. The composition isn’t overly complex, but it’s efficient: a tweak here and addition there, and Sabrina’s completely redefined a decades old tune. The purpose isn’t really to subvert, though: it’s to capture the feeling of a pleasant foggy memory. Sabrina is less interested in the samples themselves and more so invested in capturing what they mean to people. “Explain It to Me” might technically be a bummer of a song, but it’s remembered fondly as something people could connect with and feel understood by: that connection, regardless from where it stems, is joy.

Throughout the mammoth 90+ minute mix, the mood is full blown 90s-early 2000s nostalgia party good time, implementing samples predominately across the spectrum of that period’s teen media. As you might gather from her amusing artist name, DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ has an affinity for television and film that captures the bizarre, indescribable magic found in shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, along with the music that held grip of the masses (even if their influence has since waned). We don’t always actively recall, but there was a lot of cheesy R&B going around at the time and Enchanted revels in it, with several familiar samples utilized across the album’s tracklist. You may struggle to remember the songs themselves, but you know you’ve heard them and you know the sound and odd, distant moments that they’ve soundtracked. I struggled near endlessly to dig up the show or movie where I’d heard the “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I felt like I was getting warmer” spoken sample on “Getting Warmer” before ultimately relenting and just letting its soothing soundscape and melody wash over me like a wave of cool, refreshing water at the beach. The title track stands out as an industrial techno club banger, but is introduced early so as not disrupt the dynamic but natural flow of tracks that bleed into one another, stitched together with the aesthetic of a radio program.

Enchanted is an enchanting project, one where Sabrina has worked out all the details so we don’t have to worry and can just enjoy them in the state presented: warm, lush, rose-colored. This may be the most direct she’s been to-date, if not overall a massive departure from her previous three albums, but this may be the best starting point for new listeners. Sabrina’s magic has yet to run dry, and Enchanted earns every minute of its Sabrina Goes to Rome-level runtime.

 

Favorite tracks: Best listened to as a whole, but special mention to “Starting to Fall In Love With You”, “Looking For You”, “I Reach Out”, “Getting Warmer”, and “I Won’t Let You Down”

 

Rating: Essential

 

DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s Enchanted is available to purchase digital and cassette here.

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