Album Review: Leaving – Skrillex
Sonny Moore has ascended to some rather dizzying levels of popularity over the course of the last couple of years. There’s a decent possibility you’re not familiar with that name, but I’m almost certain you’ve heard of his current music-making pseudonym: Skrillex. Yeah, that Skrillex. The one with “the haircut” who drops the MASSIVE beats. The man who didn’t invent dubstep (not even close), but has become the face of the genre here in America.
Moore took an interesting path to his vast fame and fortune. Back in the middle of the last decade the man who would be Skrillex was actually fronting a post-hardcore outfit known as From First To Last. After a couple of albums and Warped Tour appearances (God, I miss the days when I thought The Warped Tour was cool), Moore decided to pursue a solo career and, unbeknownst to him, become a major force in the evolution of Electronic Dance Music. In the interest of accuracy it should be pointed out Moore’s solo career didn’t start out all that revolutionary; his first EP, Gypsyhook, was more of a conventional EDM record, not dubstep, but did feature the origins of Moore’s trademark meticulously pristine production style. Gypsyhook also showcased a lot of Moore’s singing... perhaps too much of it.
In 2010 Moore released My Name Is Skrillex and, for better or worse, utterly changed the game. There was a new digital wind blowing through Moore’s sound, and it brought monstrous bass-lines, pitch-shifted vocals, intricate drum patterns, heavily spliced samples, and a musical paradigm shift. Not since the rise of Hip-Hop has a music genre so completely dominated the American mainstream’s cultural cutting edge, and at this moment Moore is the straw which stirs the drink.
There have been five records released under the Skrillex moniker, and I’ve yet to review any of them. I have reviewed other dub records, but they’ve all been in the Burial/James Blake end of the spectrum, and not in the American iteration of the genre- which the foreign press has affectionately labeled as “Brostep”. As you could probably guess, adding the prefix “bro” to the genre has been done in exceedingly derisive fashion, as dub purists from across the pond (which, btw, is where the whole thing began) feel the aggressive pomposity which American dub-artists are known for have dumbed down the genre, making it something frat boys enjoy while playing flip-cup, and planning upcoming date rapes.
But 2013 is a New Year, and I’m sticking to my resolutions... so I’m reviewing this Skrillex record, because I need to try more new things.
Luckily for me, Skrillex’s latest effort, Leaving, happens to be one of his shortest releases ever (that’s the music critic equivalent of dodging a bullet). Comprised of only three tracks, which clock in at under 13 minutes, Leaving feels more like a placeholder than a legitimate release, meant to do nothing more than satiate the nation’s growing appetite for "the wobble”. I can safely say this isn’t Skrillex’s best effort (I’ve listened to a lot of Skrillex in preparation for this release), but he did put his name on it and release it, so I must ensure it gets held to all appropriate standards.
The EP’s opener, The Reason, feature a minimal vocal line (now standard in dub compositions) and numerous builds, which never truly achieve the cataclysmic breaks I was expecting. The Reason comes off as if Skrillex isn’t putting his maximum effort into the proceedings, and the track basically ends up feeling like a tease. To be totally honest, I was expecting MUCH more from the opener. A 3-track release needs to amaze you from the first note as opposed to wasting one's time with empty titillations, and that’s not what happened here.
The album’s second track has one of the worst titles ever conceived. Scary Bolly Dub is the sort of thing a child might put together in an insanely hip Mad Lib printed on Fair Trade paper (if there even is such a thing). The fact that Skrillex chose to name a song in such a way, and his fans aren’t all reduced to awkward cringing, really says something about the genre (something they shouldn’t be proud of). The track does hit closer to what I imagine is “home” for Skrillex, with all of the sub-bass and precisely spliced samples meant to create the disorientation of time and space which the genre is (now) known for. It also features a theme which calls back to some of Skrillex’s earlier work; I’m not sure if that’s a kind of sonic calling card, or simply a case of him being derivative (of himself). Whatever the case, Scary Bolly Dub fails to disappoint as much as the opener.
Finally, there is the title track, which just so happens to be the best composition on the entire EP. There is a remarkable amount of restraint and artistry to Leaving, which actually results in the track being immensely tasteful- something I’m sure is a rarity within the American version of this genre. One of my major gripes with “Brostep” is its inability to convey any actual emotion or subtlety. Leaving, however, manages to articulate a sadness, even a universal loneliness, which great music has always been inspired by. It’s a shame this EP doesn’t contain more songs like Leaving, but you can’t really do keg stands to cuts like that.
It’s surely obvious to you that I really wanted all of the hype to be lived up to. I’m an eternal optimist, and I would have showered this EP with appropriate praise if it actually deserved it. In the end I couldn’t, because it turned out to be as underwhelming as I had feared it could be. This listening experience has left me to ponder what the future, and lasting appeal, of America’s dubstep truly is. Has it reached its ceiling? Is it more a product of cunning production techniques rather than musical inspiration? Is the sonic reshaping central to the genre its own post-modern evolution of musical inspiration? These are all topics for another day. What we know now is that Skrillex's latest EP didn’t convert me, and I bet it will have the same lack of effect on you.
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