Release Date: December 23, 2011
Label: OWSLA/Big Beat/Atlantic
Adele sold the most records, and critics had their various pet causes, but for anyone who experienced one of his panic-attack-inducing DJ sets, blasted his music after being grounded, marveled at the fervor he inspired online, or scowled a parental scowl upon absorbing what some would call anthems and others aural sadism, it’s hard not to crown Sonny Moore, a.k.a., Skrillex, a.k.a., the enfant terrible of the exploding big-tent American dance-music scene, as 2011’s most compelling musical phenomenon. Among the secrets to his success: well, certainly his haircut; his frighteningly tireless work ethic; the music itself, which we’ll get to; and most importantly his live show, which tiptoes right along the line between religious experience and soccer riot. Put it all together, and BAM –five Grammy nods. (Adele received just one more.)
Now, Sonny says he doesn’t really sleep, and when he says that, you believe him, because a) see above; and b) it totally suits his mystique/shtick as the hyperactive kid who can’t turn off his brain, much less his sound system. This in turn fits the image of how most adults view most kids today: frantic, addled, disoriented, frightening, distressingly deviant when it comes to technology. And this in turn gives dubstep (or the Americanized pejorative brostep, or whatever you want to call this stuff, and who really cares at this point) its allure and power: It genuinely scares certain people, comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable, to borrow the man’s phrase.
Take this latest EP’s title track, a massively enjoyable, massively concussive collection of blips and bursts that sounds like something Moby might hear in his head during a heart attack, so thoroughly and dyspeptically is dubstep’s characteristic bass wobble distorted and pushed into the red. That remains Sonny’s signature trick — it’s like he’s constantly in search of the ultimate wobble. The Wobble to End All Wobbles. God help us if he ever finds it.
This is not to say a Skrillex track is built entirely around bombast, and in fact, “Summit” is a great example of just the opposite, with a slinking melody that corrals Moore’s go-to samples — chopped-up bits of AutoTuned vocals, lumbering low-end — and pulls them together into something surprisingly understated, even beautiful. But not every departure works out so well. Skrillex’s magpie tendencies result in some downright goofy twists and turns, like the cloying rave stabs on “The Devil’s Den” (featuring electro-house maven Wolfgang Gartner); the meandering, peak-hour-mocking, prog-house lark “Right on Time” (with Kill the Noise and 12th Planet); and most worryingly, the Hyundai-sponsored collaboration “Breakin’ a Sweat” (for the documentary RE:GENERATION), which features the three surviving members of the Doors jamming over a Skrillex beat, and is literally the sound of generations colliding, awkwardly if sort of admirably, but still… It’s supposed to be a reworking of Miles Davis’ 1958 modal-jazz classic “Milestones.” See if you can tell. (Hint: You can’t.)
Consistency is hardly the point, though, and in fact, it feels kind of silly reviewing a Skrillex album (an “EP,” no less) as anything purporting to be a coherent, front-to-back musical statement. What you hear, if you can hear it at all — and if you’re over 30, it’s possible you can’t — is loose ammunition for what might possibly be 300-plus Skrillex live shows in 2012. Like cans of Monster Energy Drink, this collection is spracked out and ridiculous and fun and sometimes disposable, just one more shard of debris left in this kid’s wake, and his generation’s.