It’s hard to listen to Throwing Shade’s newest EP, House of Silk, without comparing it to 17 Jewels, the EP that came before. 17 Jewels was a brief exercise in sweet, sludgy synthwork, taking ostensibly milquetoast pop and shoving it into a river of candy and indulgence until the result was properly interesting. The EP was a phenomenal example of what was then a relatively new wave of producers manipulating the hell out of unstable skeletons of songs and making them orders of magnitude weirder, to the joy of so many of their fans (and the chagrin of countless naysayers as well — read the comments on any review of “Hey QT” for more). Back then (admittedly, only two years ago, but how times change!), the sound Throwing Shade was championing still felt exciting, a world removed from the stoicism of most similarly-acclaimed electronic music of the day.
Of course, in 2016, this style of whimsical maximalism has become old hat. Now that we’re in the post-PC-Music bust, where the internet has collectively thinkpieced and counter-thinkpieced itself into exhaustion, most attempts at resuscitating these cheesy, cheery Play-Doh synths are met not with incredulity or anger but compliance. Which means two things, largely: first, that any kind of music a producer makes in this vein will probably not be met with the same kind of enthusiasm as it would have even a year ago; and a related second, that if this style of music is to succeed now, it had better be pretty damn good.
Unfortunately, House of Silk isn’t fresh or exciting enough to turn the heads of those bloated from the aftermath of the “bubblegum bass” surge. Most importantly, whereas much of the best music of its style was incisive in its creation — tethered by a rip-roaring bass or, in the case of most of 17 Jewels, a deluge of melodic color — House of Silk lacks any sort of bite. Most of it floats along airily, pleasant enough to listen to but lacking the sort of focus which made Throwing Shade’s earlier stuff so excellent. “Ecco Ecco” inhabits the less interesting parts of Fatima Al Qadiri’s Sino-grime while eschewing most of the harmonically daring elements of that sound: incredibly repetitive, with a purely functional beat, its plodding synths do little to drag it out of a funk. Similarly, “hashtag IRL”, the most overtly PC Music track on the EP (featuring Throwing Shade’s own nonchalant vocals, the same ones found on SOPHIE’s “Lemonade”), goes nowhere, one of the most paint-by-numbers tracks the producer has ever created and one of the most insipid examples of this type of cheeky, flippant production Throwing Shade has created.
All this is to say that when Throwing Shade is on, she’s on. Her knack for harmony and how to properly drown a sound in colorful synths is nearly unparalleled among newer producers, and if she were to continue down the road she paved with 17 Jewels, she’d be well on her way to a seriously excellent place. Her best work is incredibly exciting, which is why House of Silk is such a disappointment as it’s aimless, wandering all over the place without anything to show for it. When Throwing Shade channels her sound into the weirdly melancholy joy that made her previous work stand out so, she makes some of the best stuff around, PC-Music-styled or not. Here’s hoping she can return to that peak sometime soon.