Review Summary: Bassnectar's signature creative blends are set aside for modern dubstep tropes in this conflicted mix of new and old.
San Francisco’s Lorin Ashton, best known as the dubstep-before-dubstep-was-everywhere forefather Bassnectar
, has been a busy guy over the course of his career. He’s released album after album, while pioneering creative approaches to electronica and house music, along with his own style of dubstep. With dubstep slowly growing into a mainstream hit from many of his peers in the genre, Bassnectar would be expected to follow suit and try to add more heaviness to his effects to capture that new audience. Fortunately, Mr. Ashton has kept his sound pretty even-grounded, and while it’s admirable that he doesn’t fall into the “pit of wub-wub” face-first, you can tell he’s conflicted on his newest album, Vava Voom
. Bassnectar’s 2012 album has some great and remarkably creative moments, but there’s a tug-of-war present, leaving those less-than-standout tracks stuck in a heavy-bass/soft-space limbo.
Bassnectar’s album breaks out with the self-titled track featuring on-the-rise hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco. “Vava Voom” featuring an ascendant-descendant electronica sound throughout, with Lupe Fiasco doing his best to keep up with Bassnectar’s slick dubstep effects. As a guest on “Vava Voom”, Lupe Fiasco does a pretty lackluster job. He’s buried under so many effects and sounds that it probably would’ve been best to just make the song an instrumental. It’s not terrible, but Lupe Fiasco’s performance is drastically tertiary compared to the beats Bassnectar pushes.
In contrast to modern popular peers, Bassnectar has taken the initiative and hasn’t relied on the overuse of bass to gather an audience. He’s not afraid to slow things down and take a minimalist, almost spacey sound style. “Laughter Crescendo” is a much more subdued sound, one that isn’t scathed with heavy, melodically attempted bass beats. Instead, it feels cosmic and almost poppy among the goofy giggling throughout. The surreally designed “Butterfly” is downright beautiful, with its piano themes and soaring vocals. Bassnectar’s skill with all reaches of dubstep is clear here, ignoring the templates and adding atmosphere and spirit to the mix.
It’s when he mixes his love of punk and grunge that Bassnectar is really able to make something unique. “Pennywise Tribute” samples California punk band Pennywise’s song “Bro Hymn” without sucking the guts of the song dry. More a remix than a full-on original track, “Pennywise Tribute” is a pumped-up anthem drawn into the aura of dubstep. It’s a rockin’ track with a few heavy spots, but it doesn’t feel too weighted and keeps the punk spirit alive, even when adding in the electronica. The aptly titled “Ping Pong” mixes the sounds of a table tennis match with a rhythmically warped dance beat. It’s a creative idea, one that shows that dubstep can be experimental.
Bassnectar tries some new things on Vava Voom
, which show some great results, but surrounding those truly ingenious moments of bizarre mishmashing, the artist starts to fall into those slowly ingraining tropes that have turned many people off to modern dubstep. “What” is an electronica boost brought about with a ghoulish effect call. Though the sound does help it stand out from the rest of the album’s tracks, “What” is a conglomeration of effects that doesn’t feel as purposeful and congealed as other tracks on Vava Voom
. It’s here that Bassnectar sounds like he’s appealing to the newly commercialized dubstep field, and while it’s not to the extent of pretentiously heavy bass beats, it still feels off when the subtlety of dubstep begins to wane from the sound. “Do It Like This” takes that idea even further, as it’s disappointingly similar to the modern dubstep craze. It’s heavy, but in an unneeded and pointless way. It’s not fast enough to keep the dance crowd satisfied, but not subtle enough to be able to transcend the dubstep stereotype.
Aside from a few creative gems like “Pennywise Tribute”, “Ping Pong” and “Butterfly”, there’s nothing that significantly stands out on Vava Voom
. It’s admirable that Bassnectar aims to progress ever so slightly while still keeping the dubstep fundamentals written in stone, but Vava Voom
doesn’t take enough risks to be a truly memorable album in his discography. Dubstep is growing in its commercial and popular appeal; it’s hard to stand out without having a stereotype slapped on your face. Bassnectar’s talent has come from unique, unexpected blends of styles instead of a reliance on the bang-your-head heaviness that the genre has been labeled with recently. Still, Bassnectar is beginning to move into that modern phase of dubstep, as much as we hate to realize it. Compared to Bassnectar’s older albums, Vava Voom
is more of an adjustment to the musical climate than an anthemic collection of house hits. It’s not awful, but far from essential.