PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Joker: The Vision

David Amidon

After spending the past five years pioneering the dubstep subgenre of Purple Sound through singles, Joker gets around to making his debut LP and struggles with the change in format.


Joker

The Vision

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2011-11-08
UK Release Date: 2011-10-31
Amazon
iTunes

In 2011, it has become easy to refer to nearly all forms of popular electronic music as dubstep, but as with any subculture that's hardly the case. Dubstep began fracturing almost as soon as Burial brought the term to mainstream attention, especially as it gained traction in the U.S. and vacated most of its previous connections to dub reggae and two-step in favour of, well, wobbles. Of the original vanguard of dubstep pioneers, it was Joker and his Kapsize label that I was always mot interested to hear. Part of that was his sparse work record – roughly one single and one EP per year, each of them among the best the scene had to offer – and part of it was his formation of an entirely new subgenre of dubstep called the Purple Sound. The Purple Sound is rooted in Wonky (a fusion of dubstep and hip-hop ala Nosaj Thing or Flying Lotus) with many audible references to g-funk and video game music. At their best, Purple Sound producers are the faction that makes the most easily digestible form of the genre, with a heavy emphasis on groove and bluntedness that's perfect for long drives or relaxed get-togethers.

The Vision comes nearly five years after Joker first became a household name in the dubstep community, and it's a little baffling why we had to wait so long for his first full length if it was going to be his least inspired work to date. The album begins with an “epic” intro culled straight from the playbook of Nero's massive Welcome Reality before slapping us in the face with the wholly uninspired house track "Here Come the Lights". It's the sort of bland, single-aspiring black hole of a record you'd expect on a single artist's attempt at an album, but it feels especially hollow coming from Joker, a guy who's never come close to sounding so dull and afraid of making a mark. Meanwhile, "Tron" – a classic Joker track full of ever-evolving bass rhythms and some killer texture work on the mid-range – is a smart business decision. It's just that listeners, particularly old fans, are left wondering which Joker we're going to get the rest of the way.

Mostly, we get the one from "Here Come the Lights", although he does make a point to try a little harder on the musical side of things. We get to hear underground rappers and faceless vocalists all try their hands at Joker's thunderous concoctions, but it's not often they feel of any real use or necessity. "The Vision" sees Jessie Ware somewhat capable, but, in the face of the remix version featuring a verse from American rap titan Freddie Gibbs, the regular version we get on the album feels like a major let down. Gibbs also impresses in ways the guys from the U.K. like Buggsy and Scarz seem incapable of. He acts as the beat's god-like equal, engaging it in a boxing match of linguistic flexibility while maintaining a bit of humanity. Whereas the guys who should sound more at home in this environment feel like some guys going through their motions, sticking to the same topics and cadences you've heard on a hundred other grime records. They're indistinguishable from their peers. When it comes to the other crooners, "Electric Sea" is a stunning slab of dullness (and N.E.R.D.ery) and "On My Mind" feels like Joker and William Cartwright trying to revive the Timbaland + Ginuwine template and landing with a thud on a throwaway bit of album filler rather than a certified smash hit.

It's a shame because the production stays pretty favourable throughout The Vision, even if it disappoints against the expectations set by his previous work. "Level 6" is a fun nod to the goofier side of the Purple Sound, all bleeps and bloops that feel lifted from an SNES sound card while "Magic Causeway" feels like the sort of listenable, promotable track we've come to expect from the Joker & Ginz collaboration. "Milky Way" is also an interesting foray into the video game sound, retaining most of Joker's Wonky sensibilities while also boldly impersonating a Yasunori Mitsuda sort of composition. "My Trance Girl" finds him expanding his template a little as well, with the results working out much better than his nods to house that kicked off the album (perhaps due to the lack of a vocalist). In many ways, it's the most ambitious thing he's ever done, in both scope and length. But these high points are followed by a succession of vocalists that feel like distractions and nothing more, causing The Vision to struggle mightily to the finish line. What should have been a defining moment for the Purple Sound on a micro level and Dubstep on a macro level is instead just kind of fun, kind of not. Most disappointingly, it sounds like the sort of album any number of B-list producers would be convinced to make, not someone as pioneering and consistent as Joker was just a couple of years ago.

There's another classic Joker EP in here. It's just a shame we couldn't get our first classic Joker album.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.