Review Summary: seven > one thousand
Since his breakthrough at the beginning of this past decade, Seven Lions has left indelible fingerprints on every piece of melodic dubstep created in his wake. Any artist with a knack for cinematic half-time euphoria will at some point in their careers, as inevitably as mediocre EDM blogs describing any Said the Sky song as “uplifting,” be compared to the Northwesterner, née Jeff Montalvo. In some cases this exercise is more reasonable than others -- 1000 Faces
, released on Seven Lions’ Ophelia imprint by the producer’s close collaborator and friend Jason Ross, is one of the former cases -- but, even when the resemblances are limited to similar beat patterns or a passing interest in harmony, this comparison can still bear value. Seven Lions and his early-tens cohort of Porter Robinson, Madeon, and the like fundamentally reshaped the sound of festival mainstage EDM, the anodyne big-room house of Hardwell and Martin Garrix blessedly making way for Illenium’s plaintive, bombastic choruses. Any producer making music in that vein will naturally be squared against their progenitors; it’s only fair that someone following in those footsteps be expected to capture some of their emotive magic.
Just as importantly, though, Seven Lions continues to arise as a juxtaposition point because of the continued novelty of his output. 1000 Faces
, in this regard, serves as a particularly instructive example of what happens when an artist strives for the harmonic brilliance of the platonic Ophelia release without a few of the key ingredients in its best artists’ secret sauce. Ross’s melodic dubstep stylistically hews close to that of Montalvo’s, but there’s a fluidity about the latter producer’s best work that’s missing from this LP. Most concretely, dubstep tends to sound more alive when it’s syncopated, huge drum hits and synth roars occasionally crashing in just enough off the beat that the listener can’t autonomously lock into a headbang. The dubstep on 1000 Faces
, by contrast, rarely deviates from its downbeats. In creatively spacing its payoff points, Seven Lions’ work feels organic and alive; by contrast, “When The Night Falls” comes off as rigidly as its beats are spaced, sounding at times less like an original song and more like a technical demo for cutting-edge sound design tools.
Ross’s syncopation shortcomings make sense in the context of his previous tracks. The producer has spent the bulk of his career releasing a lovely blend of sugary trance and simple progressive house through Anjunabeats, a label headed by British trio Above & Beyond known for its slavishly devoted following (among which I count myself). Anjunabeats is known for a lily-white brand of poppy electronic, stripped almost entirely of rhythmic complexity for maximum peak-hour efficacy and minimal confusion among an audience which tends to dance remarkably poorly given how much time they’ll typically spend on the dancefloor (among which, again, I count myself). It comes as no surprise, then, that the best tunes on 1000 Faces
are those that embrace Anjuna’s emphasis on four-on-the-floor. The very same inflexibility that sounds stale at the milquetoast dubstep drop of “One That Got Away” feels electric over the measured beat of “Someone That I Needed,” the very next track.
That the context of a song’s construction determines how its component elements gel is obvious; that the discrepancy in quality here as a direct function of that context is so clear that it’s frankly disappointing that greater pains weren’t taken to imbue the dubstep here with more vibrancy. Ross has said in interviews that he believes 1000 Faces
stands on its own as an album, rather than a collection of tracks, and I hear him: the energy and mood varies enough throughout the LP that a DJ looking to guide their dancefloor through a many-hour journey would be better suited to pick the bulk of this album for their set than a DJ trying to play full-steam-ahead at all times. On individual songs, however, the clarity of flow disappears, leaving naught behind but single tracks which get at the big ideas of melodic dubstep while barely missing the things that have made those big ideas remain fresh many years after their saturation.
In acting more as facsimiles of the visceral immediacy of Seven Lions and his acolytes’ best work than the thing itself, 1000 Faces
ends up more functional than essential. Its best tracks will certainly continue to bang in the club for years to come, which is really the only piece of feedback that genuinely matters. (The tracks seem to know it, too -- you can almost physically feel the blast of smoke machines at the drop of Seven Lions collaboration “Known You Before,” the impending flash of strobes as the beat returns during the last chorus of “Shelter.”) Those same tracks, though, are too staid to justify the album’s focus. In working so closely with Montalvo over the past few years, Jason Ross necessarily invites the sorts of comparisons that might have felt less apt had he stuck to his prior Anjuna sound. He’d have been better suited to discourage them.