Review Summary: The honeymoon is over.
It’s not entirely clear how seriously Skrillex is taking his productions on his long-awaited first full-length, Recess
. Right out of the gates, the album explodes with the cheekily-titled “All is Fair in Love and Brostep,” and the apparent sarcasm of the title seemingly translates into the song’s structure and composition - the post-drop mid-range wobble is almost impossible to take seriously, so detuned and jarringly awful that it’s surprising Skrillex didn’t drop an air-horn or two into the mix (a la the wonderful “comic remixer” DJ @@). Unfortunately, as the album progresses, it becomes painfully obvious that Recess
is blithely and unabashedly serious. To wit: it seems as though Skrillex is attempting some sort of stab at “experimental” music with the shockingly bad vintage computer noises and time-stretched vocal samples of “Doompy Poomp,” about as faithful to forward-thinking bass music as “Leaving” was to ravey garage and bass-heavy dubstep. Meanwhile, “Ease My Mind” sounds like about a billion other poorly-produced “melodic chillstep” tunes uploaded to YouTube to the fanfare of approximately 100 views from gamers looking for royalty-free music for their montages. It’s even complete with faux-uplifting piano plus female vocals leading directly into stereotypical drop and gauche, out-of-place Eastern-tinged synths.
“Recess” sums up the album quite nicely: there’s a totally out-of-place party-centric sample from Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, followed by some incomprehensible garble containing the word “bass” at the drop (surprise, surprise!) and an utterly uninteresting, melodically-ignorant percussive hip-hop synth. Worst of all, all this pointless maximalism comprises only the first quarter of the track as a whole - Fatman Scoop still has to yell something about how “we don’t care” and Skrillex still has to compress the melody even further. Then, of course, we get to the midpoint of the song and the first half repeats with very minor variations, as is the norm in commercial electronic music nowadays.
The aforementioned song (along with pretty much the entire first half of the LP) leads to the most glaringly obvious negative criticism of Recess
- far too often over the course of the eleven tracks it feels as though Skrillex is creating a caricature of himself. I’m not of the same opinion of legions of YouTube commenters who claim that Skrillex is the “death of EDM” (who simultaneously call some worse offender “the good shi
t everyone should know”), and I honestly believe there’s a fair bit of value attached to Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
kick-starting the world’s affection for electronic music of all sorts, bringing choice parts - a supersaw here, some Massive compression there - into the limelight. Suffice it to say that for many a teenager in the US (including, of course, myself), Skrillex acted as a gateway drug of sorts. Without Skrillex, there would be no browsing UKFDubstep, and by extension no clicking through tracks on Beatport, no discovery of labels like Tempa and Wheel & Deal, no branching out into the rest of what “computer music” had to offer, no passion for electronic music kindled. We always had “Kill Everybody” and “Scatta” to look back upon, of course, already so high upon a pedestal that no amount of negative criticism or relistening could tarnish it to the point of being unlistenable, but we’d otherwise moved on.
And, really, that’s the true issue with Recess
. I still remember the “glory days” of 2010 and 2011, when our generation of electronic neophytes wasn’t yet sick of the “drop the bass” mentality and huge, gaudy outdoor festivals, when the corporate control and pursuit of money at the expense of all else wasn’t yet totally apparent. And, yes, it was a shallower time. We were still finding our footing in the intimidating world spawned by avant-garde composing, failed Roland machines, and 20-plus minute synthesizer odes by Kraftwerk, and we didn’t know where to look for the more creative, innovative stuff we know more about now.
We’ve mostly grounded ourselves at this point. We needed something interesting from Skrillex to justify our own growth, so we could say, “See? He’s growing alongside us, with us!” instead of having to accept that time has wedged something massive and immovable between us and him. Put simply, Recess
fails to bridge that divide. We’ve moved beyond the horrendously grating synth whimpers in “Try It Out,” the “DROP THE BOMB” sample at the drop of “Ragga Bomb” (again: surprise, surprise!), the useless weepy distortion pattern of “Stranger.” We crave varied music, not the superficiality of changing BPM midway through a song and calling it “variety.”
Most of all, we want some sort of elusive soul
in a musical experience, and, quite frankly, Skrillex hasn’t provided anything of the sort here. There’s something to be said for Diplo’s influence on standout track “Dirty Vibe,” which, while not even close to Diplo’s solo material, still sounds more vivacious than anything else here. There’s arguably some merit to closing track “Fire Away,” which, while anemic as hell, at least provides some sort of counterpoint to the pitched-down vocal samples and fist-pumping mentality of the rest of the album. And, yes, it is possible that the almost cartoonish amounts of compression here, seemingly ripped directly from other, better Skrillex songs, can come across as “fun” or some other sort of term that inexperienced blog writers tend to throw around when they’re trying to give a positive review to a generally critically-panned album.
On the whole, though, Recess
is the final nail in the coffin for any sort of chance at critical acclaim Skrillex had at this point in his career. Maybe it’s not him - maybe it’s us. Maybe we’ve just come down from the high that was Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
, and this album just can’t give us the same rush again. But - and bear with me here, this might be a little hard to follow - it’s entirely possible that the reason we can’t enjoy Recess
is because it’s almost undeniably a bad album. No matter the name attached to the release and the stigma attached to the name, there are almost no redeeming qualities to be found here, and the whole thing is shamelessly derivative, thoroughly lacking in any sort of creativity, and (worst of all) a logical point in Skrillex’s career arc, one which has been pointing downhill ever since 2010. Listen at your own risk.