There has been discussion of “the death of the music blog” and the fact that in the world of Tumblr we don’t need hipsters with English degrees writing flowery, insipid music commentary. After perusing the first few pages of Google results from the query “Leaving EP”, I see where these sentiments are coming from. People regurgitate the same quotes Skrillex gave to Rolling Stone, conclude that Skrillex is moving in a Burial-esque direction because he has cited the dude as an influence and maybe say something else about how they have secretly enjoyed his past output. Ummmm…
OK music journalists quit being a bunch of lazy fuckboys. If you spend some time actually listening to this EP, contextualizing it in a realm greater than in the scope of few quotes Sonny Moore threw at some press dude he probably didn’t know, there’s no way you can come to the “oh, look Skrillex is making English dubstep now” conclusion. Go ahead and disagree, but I see the Leaving EP as Skrillex grappling with the monster he has wrought and attempting to align the music he wants to create with the music his (obsessive, devoted) fans wants to hear. I know the masses of dirty-midrange-craving kids quite intimately and they are a scary, immovable force. Political-economic constraints on media output actually do exist outside of media studies classrooms and in this case, Sonny Moore is shackled by hundreds of thousands of kids who use his music to exorcise their angst and derive some enjoyment from the relatively miserable existence of the non-athletic kid in suburban America. I would wager my laptop that Skrillex would love to release a white label on Swamp 81 of hard-hitting, mind-fuck techno but I would make the same wager that a negligible portion of his fans would follow him over to the good side. Instead they would shift their affection over to one of his even more aggro clones (wow, yeah I hate those guys) and Sonny Moore would lose his influence over these kids that are probably a lot like him when he was growing up.
Hit the jump for the full review…
Try believing me for a second and think about the EP itself. The opening track is undeniably Burial influenced, from the album art (grey and destitute) to the opening soundscape of mechanical clicks soaked in dark reverb panning from one ear to the other. It kind of puts the listener inside of a machine if you try really hard not to hate Skrillex coming into the affair. The references continue, with the sweeping, muted strings and vocal sample hanging timestretched over the whole affair. Also, the song structure is a lot like “Archangel”. Like a lot. Is “Leaving” anywhere near the technical and artistic tour-de-force that Burial’s most prominent song is? Nawwwww. Would any Skrillex fans like it if it was? Hell no. They can barely handle the slight restraint on “Scary Bolly Dub”, the record’s token wob-wobber. To me, the biggest difference between Archangel and Skrillex’s ode to said track lies in the low end. Burial’s bass is earthy and natural, growing out of a soundscape that is already constructed into something nearly as tangible as real life. “Leaving” revolves around a sub that is undeniably synthesized and an imposition on the rest of the soundscape. The same goes for the drums, which, while sounding a little bit found sound-y and move around a little bit, are compressed into round bumps and don’t play across the stereo spectrum like Burial’s percussion. I don’t judge these differences negatively, rather, I see them as the important divisions between Skrillex and his influence that set Leaving apart and make it worthwhile. Rather than the endlessly frustrating copycatting that ruins trendy genres, Skrillex is taking cues while maintaining a character that is entirely his own.
This is one-dimensional music with restraint. Skrillex’s first significant sonic deviation is called “Leaving”. Not necessarily an A+ in the subtlety department bro. However, it kind of works. The vocal snippet has a beautiful little flip in it; he didn’t iron out all of the imperfection and thus real human emotion unlike the large majority of his vocal sampling (by far my least favorite part of Skrillex’s production work). There is an insistence to the track, but it never bubbles over. This is one of my favorite traits of the 2-step feel, it stutters and halts but it always seems to be stumbling forward. I have this hypothesis that this track is a representation of Skrillex’s take on his artistic progression, because everything about this song seems to fit with that. The vocal sample, the echoes of his previous sounds in those cheap sounding treble leads, the forward thinking genre allusions, they all seem to fit with an artist reflecting on past work and thinking about the future. He encases these more nuanced thoughts in a shell that is just “chill” (worst music adjective ever) enough to get his die-hard fans to listen and maybe come around to music that doesn’t go exactly where they expect.
The next two songs, while not quite as significant a departure from the Skrillex canon, are still pretty interesting little works. The second (“The Reason”) sounds exactly like what a dude hanging out on a train with Grimes all summer would make. The same love for downtempo big beats shines through, and it is intertwined with a wonky electro vibe that kind of makes me smile. That’s right I said it, a Skrillex track with vibes. So far the lyrics to this EP are “leaving” and then “the reason”. Continuing to read way too far into this work, let me suggest that maybe The Reason for him Leaving his old sound are these artists that he respects and dialogues with. Unfortunately his fans have already flooded the official Youtube version of this track with stupid, stupid fake lyrics, completely ignoring any meaning Skrillex may have coded into it. Welp, at least he tried.
Finally, we have a remix of Scary Whatevers and Nice Fairys or whatever that song is called. One of the most infuriating things the neon clad “EDM” loving masses of America does is call Brostep “Dub”. No. No, that’s not right. Except this track is kind of dubby. At first it even bounces along with an offbeat guitar! By the end that bounce has become the ol’ limiter-creaking-under-the-strain scream of your “typical” Skrillex tune, but still, this remix of the original devil-spawning creation with little snippets of his body of work sprinkled in is a thought provoking closer to the release. It’s got a hint of a vibe and some well cut out empty space, but is undeniably “canon” Skrillex work. It almost comes across as a defense of what he has done already.
I’m not going to pay $12 a month for OWLSA releases just from this one EP. However, if Skrillex continues on the path signaled by these three songs, fuck I just might. Especially if he commissions another French Fries remix. I do suggest that you give the Leaving EP a listen with an open mind. It might reaffirm your hatred of Skrillex, but maybe you will enjoy it a little bit and get a better idea of where this dude is coming from. Maybe it will even give you a little bit of hope for what kind of music the masses will get down to in the future.