Review Summary: business as usual
I am 100% for what most people refer to as "selling out." Artists tend to do their most honest and appealing work when they start to diversify their sound, working with mainstream artists they have often wanted to for years (to the detriment of their early fans). I say this to clarify that becoming mainstream has not hurt Gesaffelstein's art, at least not in any way visible from the public eye. He's still a fantastic producer, capable of shutting off the lights and inviting in the ghosts in any environment. Hyperion
shows that talent off. From the very first few notes, it's obvious that he's been working on his skills, heightening his songwriting and production abilities. This is a much more interesting release than his debut Aleph
, with more genre-hopping and collaborations than ever before, mostly for the better. His grasp on darkness is still his defining sound, with more curiosities along the way to keep listeners entertained. These tracks feel fuller than ever before, the kind of rich-major-label-star sound quality only possible because this is dropping on Columbia. It's reminiscent of the transformation Daft Punk have taken over the course of their career - lo-fi beginnings in dark techno-inspired dance music, taking advantage of their connections to find a new path in a more pop direction, working with celebrities and using new skills honed from creating soundtracks.
Unfortunately, the other thing that Hyperion
has in common with Random Access Memories
is that it shows how the creator lost his edge, in more ways than one. First off, he's clearly stuck in the past. Most of these collaborations, however unexpected and appealing they are, sound (on paper and wax) like they came straight out of 2013. It's hard for me to complain about that - 2013 was probably my favorite year in music, period, and artists like Haim, The Hacker and Electric Youth still seem cool - but as recent as it may seem, the distance between now and then is enormous. In the six years since Aleph
, trap has come (and at this point practically gone), rock and EDM both died, and streaming took over the music market. Mike Levy is 31 years old now, so it makes sense that he would no longer sound like the future, but this is an inevitable disappointment for anyone who got into his work through Yeezus
. At that point, and still, he sounded like the future, but now he sounds current at best. Second, for better or worse, this is simply softer than all his previous studio work. There is no "Pursuit," "Trans," or "Hellifornia" here, which is frustrating. But there is "Humanity Gone," a 10-minute journey and the most emotionally dynamic track he's ever released, "Reset," a gloomy and bass-filled duet between hip-hop and ambient, and "So Bad," a charged-up dream drenched in smoke.
Surprisingly, these all somehow fit together under this album's umbrella, alongside what are basically Pharrell and Weeknd songs with a vaguely spooky sheen on top. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely more structured and meaningful than the compilation-esque mishmash of Aleph
, which has more musical similarities but still felt less connected, a clear sign that he is improving on that front. It’s still lacking, though. Nothing about the flow is irritating or out of place, but it just kind of exists, ending really dramatically for no apparent reason. Most of these songs sound more like buildups to bigger, grander pieces, and just kind of fade off. As cliché as it sounds, these might even be better with a few more drops, or at least some more personal lyrics about something other than Abel’s disrespect of bisexuality or whatever generic romanticism “Forever” is about. There are plenty of talented songwriters who have the knack for making raw material like this exciting and deep instead of neat and cool, and Gesaffelstein still hasn’t proven that he’s there. So maybe he should work with them, sell out a little more, and see what happens.