Music review: ‘Big Beat Recess’

March 29, 2014 

  • Electronic

    Skrillex

    Big Beat Recess

Skrillex shows his roots

On his 3 1/2-year journey from electronic dabbler to the savior of dance music, one thing Skrillex never bothered to do is release an album. Now there’s “Recess,” which feels like a checked-off item on a bucket list. Surprise-released through an app, “Recess” streamed for a week on iTunes before its physical and digital debut. This is a loose echo of Beyonce’s recent unannounced album release, but it’s more consistent with the steady drip of music Skrillex has offered since his 2010 breakthrough: a string of EPs, work on the “Spring Breakers” soundtrack, some production collaborations and side projects. This album isn’t a standalone event signifying a radical shift; it’s business as usual.

“Recess” moves beyond the trademark Skrillex sound in small and sometimes meaningful ways, but it falls far short of upheaval. There is the usual annihilation: percussive synthesizers deployed with force on songs like “All Is Fair in Love and Brostep” and “Try It Out.” These are kin to the sorts of industrial-scale tracks on which Skrillex built and maintained his reputation.

But he adds a twist on this album. On a pair of songs, “All Is Fair in Love and Brostep” and “Ragga Bomb,” he collaborates with Ragga Twins, the British vocalist duo integral in the 1990s intersection of rave, jungle and reggae. This is Skrillex nodding to his early dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass roots or, more specifically, the roots of his roots. At times, Skrillex has felt ahistorical, but this move is a clear attempt to show how the family tree has been formed.

He also wants to give a glimpse of what the next branches are going to look like, nowhere more clearly than on “Dirty Vibe,” a co-production with Diplo that features naughty raps from the K-pop stars G-Dragon and CL. Built This brassy and convincing song is the sort of cross-genre collaboration that will probably seem less unusual in the years to come.

When Skrillex attempts to collaborate with signature singers he generally falls short. Take the wasteful melodrama of “Ease My Mind,” which is built on a sample of “DJ, Ease My Mind,” by Niki and the Dove. That group’s singer, Malin Dahlstrom, has a textureless voice that doesn’t convey any tension, and Skrillex’s nominally Middle Eastern-influenced swirls feel tinny and frail.

Jon Caramanica, New York Times

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