I experienced two interesting viewpoints in the past couple of weeks. One of my friends dabbles in EDM production, and was excited for (and subsequently pumped with) Skrillex’s newest release. However, the topic of Dubstep also came up during band practice this week, and the phrase that stuck was that “Dubstep is the only genre that died faster than Disco.” That dichotomy inspired this review. Not to mention that Skrillex is a household name. After teaming up with Diplo (an American DJ/Producer with an impressive resumé), we’re presented with Jack Ü: a collaborative Dubstep/Trap/Deep House effort that debuted at 26 on Billboard. Impressive in itself for an album that’s not directly radio-accessible, but it asks the question: is Dubstep still relevant?
I’m classifying this album as Dubstep. It’s not quite as formally structured and dense as a typical Dubstep album, but the Trap/House/Pop elements take a backseat to Skrill’s signature sound. And I do like Skrillex. I liked Skrillex. Dubstep was fresh, and when Skrillex brought it to the mainstream in 2011, it gave an entire new sense of loudness to the EDM world.
Therein lies the strengths of this album. I’m consistently impressed by Skrillex’s ability to envision “space” within a song. You can crank these songs on iPod headphones, car speakers, or loud enough to give you hearing damage in a club, and the bass is insane. One of the most difficult parts of music production is creating massive low-end without it seeming disproportionate. You’ll hear exactly what I mean if you have a sound system capable of accurately producing the sub rumble in Jungle Bae.
Unfortunately, that’s about where this album grinds to a halt. The songs are weak. There’s no way around it. And it’s incredibly disconcerting and confusing at times. There are many moments on this album that reinforce Diplo’s finely-tuned ear for melody. To Ü is a rather catchy house-inspired song, and Take Ü There has a hook (and a vocal performance by Kiesza) that’s quite memorable. But the individual pieces are recycled to the point of irritation. It’s important to take this album in context, but even in a loud club setting, the songs drag past the halfway mark. Once you’ve heard the intro and the drop, you’ve heard the song, and at that point, the songs become repetitive. Only a few tracks on the album avoid this formula, and it makes the album somewhat easy to tune out.
The other annoyance I couldn’t get past with Jack Ü is the selection of sounds. I feel it comes down to bad decision making. Skrillex is an incredibly skilled synthesis, but the album is littered with obnoxious synths and noises. The first time you hear Febreze, you might chuckle at the Eastern sounding synth, but its harsh tonality is prone to ear-fatigue. Holla Out features so many production clichés: rapid-fire hi-hats, airhorns, and “modern talking” synths offset a rather catchy vocal performance. Even the single Take Ü There’s drop is punctuated by a very digitally repeating vocal phrase that screeches like a siren against the heavy synths.
It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of this album. It’s just that it’s not executed properly. The entire album feels like an afterthought byproduct of a possibly great collaboration. Here we have two incredibly talented and accomplished music producers employing production techniques that serve to detract from the music instead of reinforcing it. Dubstep (and to that extent, Trap) have the potential to contain lasting tracks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be obnoxious. If Jack Ü were to take their music seriously, they’d be able to churn out chart-topping music. But as it stands, Jack Ü seems to have it backwards, taking the clichés from the Dubstep and Pop worlds as opposed to taking the best from both worlds.