Skrillex: Recess

[4 April 2014]

By Andy Belt

Dubstep Giant Skrillex Arrives With Studio Debut

It’s been impossible to ignore the recent meteoric rise of EDM juggernaut Skrillex (aka Sunny Moore). Along with other producers like Avicii and Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex is responsible for reigniting America’s interest in electronic music and more notably dubstep, a genre that had been relatively unrepresented in the mainstream. Before Moore was irritating parents with his Grammy-winning thunderous bass wobbles, he was the frontman for post-hardcore outfit From First To Last. He left the band in 2007 and soon began making solo recordings that went relatively unnoticed until he released the My Name Is Skrillex EP three years later. This is the release that positioned Moore as a more than worthy contender in the EDM world. His breakthrough arrived with Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, the EP that jump started the entire Skrillex phenomenon. 

The DJ exploded into public consciousness with powerful dubstep that uses the genre’s more abrasive elements sparingly, making for overall more accessible sonic fare. After touring relentlessly and appearing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages, Skrillex has cemented his place within the music industry as a go-to producer. Amidst all of his recent fanfare arrives Recess, the debut full length studio album from Moore. The record has glimpses of a talented DJ and some sturdy songwriting, but there are moments when the music feels all too familiar and does little to distinguish itself from an already crowded genre. Moore’s attempts to exit his comfort zone make for some uneven listening. That said, Skrillex does have some formidable tracks here that his voracious fans will consume without a second thought. 

By now we know what to expect from a Skrillex release. If past efforts are any indication, Moore favors more robotic, industrial effects over his melodic dubstep. Both jarring and hypnotic, Skrillex is relentless with his brand of noisemaking. Moore is adept at producing catchy melodies that lie beneath the wobbling bass, resulting in an aural denseness on most tracks. Like any modern EDM album worth its salt, when Moore drops the bass after intense buildups it makes for some of the most euphoric moments on the record.

Fiery opener, “All Is Fair in Love and Brostep”, a title which sees Skrillex embracing the jests and tongue-in-cheek sub-genre that naysayers have thrown at him, lights the fuse that kicks off Recess. If he’s on a mission to dismiss the notion that his music is made for frat parties and early morning keg stands, his case is somewhat convincing. On one hand, Recess differs from most modern EDM albums in that sometimes the buildups are more captivating than the actual drop, evidenced in penultimate track “Ease My Mind”, which features a memorable appearance from Swedish vocalist Malin Dalsthröm. On the flip side, a lot of the songs give into some of the genre’s biggest stereotypes. The album suffers from being superficial, all smoke and mirrors with no substance. only a handful of tracks attempt to emotionally dig deeper. 

Recess is often hindered by sensory overload. There’s a lot to take in at once, but it’s not always enjoyable to go back and sort through the various layers. “Stranger” finds the DJ using a high-pitched synth effect that’s so grating it’s as though he’s trying to be annoying on purpose. The album has moments when the abrasive sounds work, like on “Ragga Bomb”, which is propelled by spitfire vocals from the British jungle music artists the Ragga Twins. 

It’s not solely the shrillness of certain songs that brings down the album. “Dirty Vibe” is a forgettable collaboration due to lackluster verses from Korean pop stars CL and G-Dragon. The plodding and unnecessary “Doompy Poomp” is not only the worst track on the record, but one of the DJ’s lowest points in recent memory. It’s the worst kind of filler on an album:  hookless, tuneless, and meaningless. 

Fortunately, Recess also boasts some of Skrillex’s catchiest material to date. The lead single, “Try It Out”, is dubstep with hip-hop swagger that is sure to get the audiences rowdy during Moore’s late-night festival performances this summer. One of my favorite MC’s of late, Chance The Rapper, shines again on the brass-flourished “Coast Is Clear”, which utilizes his quirky, flexible talents for a song that deftly combines soul and EDM. Overall, when Skrillex plays the role of mad scientist, combining and skewering genres, it usually works in his favor. 

In the end, it’s important to bear in mind that despite this hardly being Moore’s introduction to the public, Recess is his first full length effort. While the album will most likely not be considered a classic, it will undoubtedly satiate the Skrillex diehards. If anything, Recess will serve as a snapshot in time when Skrillex had the world of EDM in the palm of his hand.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180316-skrillexrecess/