March 20, 2014

Test Spin: Skrillex, Recess

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Grammy-winning producer and OWSLA-founder Skrillex is back with a new album for us to pop our eardrums with. Skrillex has grown in the past four years from an ex-punk singer with a terrible nose job to someone on the forefront of electronic music and one of the most sought after producers/collaborators in the business. Skrillex defies genre in this new album that experiments with all kinds of rhythms but still retains his signature sound.

Skrillex starts off the album with “All is Fair in Love and Brostep,” a track that harkens back to Skrillex’s original sound. Skrillex returns to the loud, jarring, glitchy, grimy, dubstep that made him famous back in 2011 on Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. Regardless of how you feel about this loud, aggressive style of music, you have to respect how Skrillex has stayed true to himself and his fans. Yes, it’s lovely when an artist changes or goes towards a new sound (which doesn’t always work out), but true music fans appreciate when an artist stays true to his sound — the sound that made him famous and resonated with his core group of fans. Hate it or love it, brostep is what Skrillex popularized and what is still popular with his fan base today. The formula of this first track gets old after a while — first riff, second riff, return to the vocal sample, repeat. But it still hits hard and delivers a signature Skrillex, mosh-pit-inducing drop.

“Dirty Vibe” featuring Diplo is being promoted as one of the hottest singles of the album. It starts off with moombah-esque rhythmic patterns and then drops into a straight trap anthem rife with 808 drums and rapid ticks. But the track falls short as they just rapidly trigger a short vocal sample on top of a stale trap beat with some average rapping. Both of these producers own their own labels and this track sounds like both of them were just too busy to put that much effort into it. Where Skrillex succeeds is with young MC Chance the Rapper on “Coast is Clear.” A little piano intro and some studio chatter start off this gritty yet soulful track. Chance’s feel-good rapping comes in on top of a quick hip hop beat and Skrillex’s touch of a gritty electro bass to bring it all together. Chance’s pitchy, wild voice spits Biggie Smalls reminiscent lyrics: “What your interests are / Who you be with / Can I ask a question / Can you keep a secret?” Chance flows from this romantic series of questions into a much more vulgar one, repeating “Do you wanna fuck?” four times on the hook. The question is a funny surprise and somehow compliments the melodic, horn based beat that makes this track such a jam.

Skrillex is not only an expert at using sounds and rhythms we are accustomed to, but also pushing boundaries and coming up with things we have never heard before. Many producers strive to find the appropriate balance between these two extremes of satisfying listeners’ desires to hear masterful takes on what they already know and constantly creating new sounds and patterns to entertain our minds. On “Fire Away,” Skrillex uses that classic dubstep rhythm, reminiscent of an OG Caspa or Rusko track from 2007, in tandem with cheery, auto-tuned vocals that sound like some of his older tracks like “Voltage.” Yet, on tracks like “Fuck That” he uses a chopped up vocal sample to lead to a drop that sounds like it transports you straight into a safari with its hollowed out, reverberated synths.

Skrillex has a knack for completely switching up the track halfway through or having the second drop be totally different than the first, like on the track “Stranger.” The album has more bro-step tracks like “Try it Out (Neon Mix),” featuring OWSLA-signed artist Alvin Risk. It has an Egyptian-sounding synth hooks reminiscent of DJ Snake on the track “Ease My Mind.” It has filthy dub-influenced bass bombs like Ragga Bomb featuring The Ragga Twins. Basically, this album is so diverse and varied in its sounds that it will literally keep you guessing about what is coming next until the last song. Skrillex shows us he is absolutely a genre-smasher as he takes elements from dutch house, trap, dubstep, moombahton, electro-house, even drum and bass, and fuses them to create a truly unique album that makes you want to dance like a madman. Take aways: Riot party music: Yes. Contemplative study music: No. Creative and avant-garde? Those are Sonny’s middle names.