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

Written by Travis Shosa

This review was originally written for COUNTERZINE on February 3, 2020. It has been re-edited and adapted for Stamens/Pistils/Parties.

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 Charmed remake, altered and re-contextualized the memories of many of our youths, to varying degrees of success.

Nostalgia is a helluva drug, and when you’re an addict, you’ll settle for an inferior 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 lucrative: if wanting artistically. Usually, watching the things you held dear when you were young exploited by millionaires and billionaires for profit as an adult is more depressing than charming. It takes love and imagination 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. Try recalling an event in your life that happened 20 years ago: can you describe it in perfect detail? 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 remember the specifics. It’s worn and faded, like the page of an ancient tome. As such, if approached 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.

It isn’t the case with every sample and every person: memories are specific to each individual. You’ll find anchor points sprinkled throughout that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the hazy, claustrophobic mind dive that Sabrina has pieced together. One of the most likely universal will be the sample of Liz Phair’s “Explain It to Me” on “Starting to Fall In Love With You.” When considering the place of “Explain It to Me” in the subconscious of the average individual, there are two common origin points: 1993’s Exile In Guyville and the 2003 teen drama Thirteen.

The subject matter is less than cheery: seeing a personal hero at their absolute lowest. And the context of inclusion on Phair’s incisive album or Catherine Hardwicke’s tumultuous cautionary tale of falling in with the wrong crowd doesn’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.” Within the original 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.

Sabrina slices away all the negativity: she discards the verses that would reveal the original meaning. The once weary, stumbling guitars are lifted and sped up, energetically dancing like a girl excited for a party, while her accessible house beat rounds out the shot of distilled bliss. 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 details of the samples and more invested in capturing what they mean to people. “Explain It to Me” might be a bummer, but it’s remembered fondly as something people could connect with and feel understood by: that connection, regardless of 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 moniker, 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 once held a grip on 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 tracklist. You may struggle to remember the sources, but you know you’ve heard them. And you know the distant moments 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” sample on “Getting Warmer” before ultimately relenting and letting its soothing soundscape wash over like a wave of cool, refreshing water. The title track stands out as an industrial techno club banger but comes early so as not to disrupt the track flow: stitched together with the aesthetic of a radio program.

Enchanted is a spellbinding project, one where Sabrina has worked out all the details so we don’t have to worry and can enjoy them in the state presented: warm, lush, rose-colored. It may be the most direct she’s been to date, if not 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.

Score: 8 Pollenate Me!

Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.

One response to “Album Review: DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s ‘Enchanted’”

  1. […] For further reading on DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ, check out our review of Enchanted. […]

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