The very definition of dubstep is very thinly spread over a lot of dance music these days. With Skrillex and Nero taking elements of dubstep and placing them in Pendulum-sized arrangements, they brought dubstep confidently to the upper regions of the charts and ‘dubstep’ has arguably only now became the household name fans were saying it had become after Magnetic Man released “I Need Air” in 2010. Yet despite all the European dancey synth chords appearing in dubstep over the last couple of years, there are still those producers, such as Benga, Skream, Burial, and Rusko, who generally stick to the original dubstep rulebook, but it’s tough for a purist to compete with someone who’s bass synth sounds like a thousand lions chasing a thousand screaming banshees, beneath a synth-chord progression taken from the trance music in the ’90s. Unfortunately, the easily distracted dance music fans of 2012 need to be bulldozed by a track, not teased with it, in order to pay attention to it.
Rusko started out with a subtle, more-dub-than-step style, with haunting tracks like “SNES dub” and “Acton Dread”, not trying to get anyone’s attention but those who loved dub and dubstep. By the time he was successful enough to release his debut full-length OMG, Rusko had cottoned onto to the “bigger = money” dubstep formula. Subsequently, we got “Woo Boost”, which was definitely no longer a hazy dub number, and its bass line drop, reminiscent of the boogey man thumping up the stairs to frighten children, became one of the most recognisable dubstep hooks of recent years.
However OMG was a mixed release, albeit in sound but not necessarily in quality, unpredictable in that it was never clear how much of a purist Rusko still was. Some of it was similar to Skream’s debut record in that it was still very much loyal to dub, but unlike Skream, tracks like “Dial My Number” and “Raver’s Spesh” were less deep and jittery, and much more euphoric and commercial. Not that it’s necessary for a producer to have one sound, but it made for a slightly inconsistent listen.
Make no mistake though, Rusko is a dubstep producer, and Songs is a dubstep album by clear and certain definition, indeed a mix of dub and 2 step, combined and separately. His styles clearly refuse to pander to the elaborate and ferocious brand that chart successes Nero and Skrillex have favoured. And more power to him, he clearly loves the genre as it was, and his second album, much like his first, mostly listens like a tribute to dubstep and the genres it has grown from. However, noticeably, there was no “Woo Boost”, no “Everyday”, no iconic mammoth dubstep track to introduce us. Lead single “Somebody to Love” has enjoyed mild success, but it’s ravey piano hook and squelch breakdown are somewhat unremarkable given how arresting his previous singles have been.
Therefore, the focus is placed on the overall effect of the album. And on the whole, it shows no signs of succumbing to peer pressure, and is perfectly enjoyable for dub and dubstep fans; ticking all the boxes and making few compromises. “Love No More” and “Mek More Green” are your standard slippery, trippy dub, “Skanker”, “Roll Da Beats (Old School Edition)” and “Be Free” are dubstep in the most traditional sense of the word, and “Whistle Crew” is as old school garage as it gets. Rusko is still a master at his art, and Songs will lose Rusko no fans of his older material. On the whole, it’s a strong, muscular, old school dubstep release.
However, there are still once again moments where Rusko seems to get commercial hunger. This is most noticeable on album highlight “Pressure”, a ravey take on two-step with a giddy garage vocal. The track actually works, becoming the most immediate track on the album. Elsewhere, the other more chart-friendly tracks seem a little contrived. “Dirty Sexy” sounds a little too much like Rihanna for comfort, with its comm-urban “I’m a pimp, throwing money in the air” lyrical blueprint somewhat out of place amongst the “love one another” stoned dub trend on the album. Elsewhere “Thunder” is an “Everyday”-style dub-trance number that has ‘single’ written all over it, though it feels a bit like a hit-by-numbers, and isn’t half the size of “Everyday”.
As with OMG, Songs is solid when it sticks to what it knows best, the crisp beats, playful bass wobbles and shuddering tempo. His commercial experimentations are still hit and miss, enough hit to make these departures worthwhile, but also enough miss to make you wonder if Rusko is out of his comfort zone when he branches out. It’s clear he is in no hurry to branch out entirely however, and on about 75 percent of the tracks, Rusko makes Songs enjoyable by simply just being very good at sticking to his roots.