Tag Archives: Dance

Skrillex – Bangarang

Skrillex has arrived with another EP! The clown prince of wubs is back, come to wub wub wub and all that! The music community nominated him for no less than five Grammys last year, so he must be doing something right, right? Well, he’s certainly doing something. If you’re reading this, you already have an opinion on Skrillex: former singer of From First To Last, ambassador of (what we’re calling) ‘American Dubstep’, rocker-turned-electronic-musician, and effectively the single most divisive character in electronic music today. Bangarang is his fourth EP – Skrillex as an entity having existed for three years now – and he stalwartly refuses to put out an LP (which he hopes to remedy with 2012’s purported Voltage). While I’m fully willing to debate whether or not an album-less artist should be in the running for five Grammys, reviewing Bangarang is much more straightforward: with EP number four Skrillex does what Skrillex has always done – churn out a highly idiosyncratic and mercenary pile of tracks that seem tailor-made for compiling your own Skrillex debut-album, since he can’t seem bothered to amass enough track diversity to make one for himself.

Maybe I’m coming down too hard on Skrillex. Some truly great artists hung back releasing albums, that’s fair, and some of the finest albums out there were one-offs with disconcerting sequels (Endtroducing springs to mind). I’m running Sonny ‘Skrillex’ Moore through the ringer because of his meteoric rise to fame, and subsequent unwillingness to do anything with it – all of which is perfectly documented here on Bangarang. If you don’t know Skrillex, if you’ve never heard American Dubstep’s hardcore beer-swigging beer-spilling jams before, this is not a bad place to start (or more accurately, try here). One’s first Skrillexian Dubstep experience is always the best, and to his credit he does some really neat things when he gets going; it’s a rare video game fan that will deny that the first time they heard him bounce Atari samples off that signature two-step beat it got their head nodding, even less if they were playing ROMs at the time. The problem arose when his novelty wore off, which occurred about a year ago, conveniently around the time he embarked on The Mothership tour, whose tracks he largely harvests for Bangarang’s playlist. In 2012 we’re left with Skrillex at his most comfortable – and consequently least ambitious – throwing around the ideas, the chipmunk vocal samples, and the grainy-dirty synths we’ve all come to identify with him. Over and over.

Of course, the disclaimer is that if you adore Skrillex, and there are a lot of you, you’re going to feel very much at home here (add three points to the score! Ignore me entirely!). “Bangarang” itself is the sort of, uh, banger he’s built his career under, and if you’re in the mood for it (or playing Audiosurf) it’s going to get you going in all the right ways. “Right In” – whose vocal sample I swear is chanting “bite in” – sounds a whole lot like “Rock n’ Roll”, sounds a whole lot like “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” and… well, you get the picture, and if you loved those you’ll love this. As an album, Bangarang features more collaborations than we’ve ever heard with Skrillex (6/7 tracks), and brings some much-needed variety into his catalogue. That these collaborations all more or less work is a testament to the sort of dedication we’ll want to see on Voltage – it’s just a shame none of them seem to reach full potential here. “The Devil’s Den” was produced alongside Wolfgang Gartner, and suggests Sonny might be listening to a bit of Kavinsky and Danger these days.. but the vocals are undercooked. Vocal samples by Sirah (“Kyoto”)  beg inquiries into whether or not Sonny should try his hand at Grime, but again fail to reach full potential; why not just recruit a full-on rap-friend, Skrillex? Varien’s “Skrillex Orchestrial Suite” is just plain hilarious, unintentionally self-parodic, and an attractive must-hear for fans and haters alike (Pip Williams, is that you?). If you look at it the right way, “Bangarang” even recalls Daft Punk, and “Breakn’ a Sweat” (get it?) just might vindicate itself with one very carefully-placed Jim Morrison interview sample.. when it isn’t horrifying The Doors fans by propping Jim’s corpse up on stage to deliver a frightening and out-of-place “Light My Fire” sample or two. To it’s credit, “Breakn’ a Sweat” does mix things up a bit with it’s organ and percussion samples, and is fun and infuriatingly infectious in its repetition when it isn’t plain infuriating (Skrillex synths ahoy!). To that end, it’s actually a pretty concise summary of the album as a whole: familiar, infectious, and growing a bit stale.

So it isn’t strictly the same track over and over, and it features a few nice changes of pace for a Skrillex EP (even when they don’t quite stick). Bangarang does, however, struggle with the same issues Skrillex has wrestled with his entire brief career: I, for one, would like to see Sonny locked in a room with 3/4 time and a clean synth, just to see what would emerge. Bangarang’s a swirling kiddie-pool of whomping quarter notes and 1-3 accents – which is to say it’s all two-step, which is fine – but it lacks the firecracker energy and innovation that enamored his stuff to an entire generation of club-hoppers a couple of years ago. It’s funky, vocal cuts on “Kyoto” and “Right on Time” hit hard, but are curiously empty and fairly generic. You aren’t necessarily going to be able to identify all the tracks by the time it’s 38 minutes are up, and that’s a problem. We’ve seen and heard this before with Skrillex. This is all we’ve seen and heard with Skrillex. It’s time to up the ante. Someone needs to be reminded that it is Skrillex, not From First To Last, that will be his legacy, whether he likes it or not. A while back, Sonny Moore swaggered out with something really neat. He’s been vampirizing it ever since. To share a secret, I really like the the idea behind Skrillex, he just needs to decide whether or not he’s going to make generic sex-soaked ‘Brostep’, or exciting video-game inflected two-step. It’s your call, Sonny Moore. Five Grammys.

As Jim is puppeted into saying, “IT’S [just] ALRIIIGHT, YEEEEAH IT’S [just] ALRIIIGHT.”

5.5

Originally published right here, January 2012. A very happy new year’s to you too!

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Rammstein – Made In Germany

So sixteen years later, Rammstein finally releases a greatest hits compilation + 1 (“Mein Land”). Is it an essential document? Why not – the crunchy, dancy Germans have been a fixture of the post-industrial dance scene for a long time now, and their legions of fans and pyrotechnic live shows firmly affix their right to drop a collection of their greatest-appreciated hits. The quick verdict reads as such: if you don’t know Rammstein yet, this certainly isn’t a bad way to get acquainted. If you’re a collector, the bonus disc is packed with an hour of more or less every Rammstein remix (and the odd reimagination) you’ll ever need, and legend has it there’s a super-ultra-special-deluxe edition floating around with three DVDs chronicling nearly every music video they’ve ever made. However, if you’re a Rammstein neophyte, and their four-on-the-floor stomp and techno-leanings don’t really “do it” for you, you can safely avoid this one. Rammstein is absurdly consistent to the extent that many of their songs are indistinguishable to a non-German-speaking listener, and many of the remixes are incremental dance spinoffs of the originals, meaning that if you simply don’t like Rammstein, this isn’t going to change your mind. Made In Germany isn’t necessary, it isn’t comprehensive, and it isn’t particularly eye-opening, nor are the remastered versions on display here enormous improvements on the original mixes. To the extent that all this is true, I say Made In Germany is exactly as advertised: bite-size Rammstein for people that already love Rammstein, and are fans of neat packaging (and who isn’t?).

Disc 1: Like so many listeners, I was introduced to Rammstein in highschool, well after their career and fame had begun to develop (thanks to an entrepreneuring Trent Reznor nod on the Lost Highway soundtrack). This meant that Herzeleid, Sehnsucht, Mutter and Reise Reise were already out; this meant that I already had everything I needed to construct 90% of Made In Germany. And so I did, and I liked it, and in a sense that’s the end of this story. For the uninitiated, Rammstein is emphatically Neue Deutsch Harte, or ‘New German Hardness’: it’s industrial-tinged metal infused with a heavy, heavy dosage of electronic dance production. If that sentence turns you off, you can more or less ignore Made In Germany and go read my Deconstruction review (or YouTube their live performances, enjoyable by all metal fans); this collection isn’t going to change your mind. As a teen, though, I landed square in Rammstein’s sights: the odd combination worked, and Rammstein successfully became the first non-english band whose lyrics I can still recite by memory (the N64’s Mystical Ninja music notwithstanding).

As a collection, Made In Germany functions well enough. The majority of the tracks here (“Links 2-3-4”, “Ich Will”, Mein “Herz Brennt”, “Mutter” and “Sonne”) are drawn from Mutter, which makes sense – it’s their most critically-acclaimed album. “Du Hast” and “Engel” make their obligatory appearances, as do “Pussy” and “Rosenrot”. Speaking of Rosenrot, to my disappointment the eponymous track is the only cut from that album, leaving out a couple of personal favourites of mine – “Mann Gegen Mann” and “Benzin”, dealing with homophobia and oil, respectively. Every Rammstein fan, ex or current, is going to have an opinion on the track-listing here, though the compilation-closer “Mein Land”, with it’s bouncy synthesizers, fits nicely as a capstone to the whole project and a suitable reminder that – unlike so many other artists, Marilyn Manson – that a greatest-hits collection doesn’t necessarily spell death for a group’s career.

So the track listing is respectable enough – how are the tracks themselves? Their Rammstein, duh, and that means something very specific: four-on-the-floor. No Rammstein listener, new or old, can deny they have a signature sound. By ‘signature sound’, I mean ‘absurdly consistent’. If you don’t look up the surprisingly clever lyrics (typically filled with double-entendres, puns and social criticism), the chances of your mistaking one track for another or another (and so on) will increase significantly; a good portion of Rammstein’s success can be credited to their having perfected a distinct style and having clung to it as a drowning man might cling to floating wreckage (for better or worse). Sadly, stripped down to a greatest-hits compilation, the sequencing of these tracks almost necessarily cancels the inclusion of Rammstein’s more experimental (and by extension stylistically exciting) tracks, with the notable exceptions of “Rosenrot”, “Amerika” and “Mutter”. For this listener, that’s the sad reality of the greatest-hits format – I’ve always been of the opinion that these guys were one wild producer and a couple of collaborations away from making a really cool concept-album. Of course, that doesn’t happen here, and as a result you’re getting straight remastered power-Rammstein that at times exposes their weaknesses; though if you’re an uninitiated fan – and so haven’t played some of these tracks to death already – that likely won’t be an issue.

All in all, the critical failing of Made In Germany’s main listening experience (disc 1), is that I more or less compiled it at thirteen, and those four tracks that didn’t yet exist were easily swapped out other favourites (or, say, Eminem – I was 13, guys). Made In Germany isn’t bad, but it isn’t interesting or particularly vital either: it’s a document in the history of an extremely charismatic group, and I’m glad they’ve fired it off, but in Rammstein’s case a greatest-hits compilation only serves to amplify their weaknesses. There’s nothing here exciting or well-sequenced enough to stop me from throwing on Rosenrot or Mutter to get my Neue-Deutsch-Harte-on.

Disc 1 (the album proper) is getting a 6.5: just fine, but just fine.

Disc 2: Hey, it’s a handy little remix album, featuring what we can only assume is the definitive collection of Rammstein remixes! Do you know about Rammstein remixes? If you do, then you know they tend to get played during the ‘generic goth-club’ scene of many an action film  (XXX, Black Leather Fight-Time 7). This is not a compliment. This means that a band that already features a heavy techno/disco undertow is being swept entirely into the current, almost to the point of eye-rolling self-satire (for example, let’s all try and sit through Scooter’s “Pussy” remix). Yes, a lot of these toe the line all the way into completely absurd repetition territory, the sort of thing you can only stand “at da (apparently goth) club”, and even then only if your friends are already dancing and drinks are involved.

Rare and wonderful exceptions come from those artists willing to break the mold and either subvert the songs or embellish upon them: Faith No More turns “Du Riechst So Gut” into something resembling a late-night radio broadcast, complete with crackles and murky, shifting keyboards. Pet Shop Boys take “Mein Teil” (thoroughly disturbing video warning!) straight to the poppy, disco-happy territory that someone might claim they’ve always threatened to enter. Devin Townsend pulls the same trick (to much better effect) on his hilarious and banjo-inflected “Rammlied” remix. Meshuggah earns a special mention for isolating the vocals on “Benzin” and playing all the instruments themselves, meaning that it is now a Meshuggah song, and the result is appropriately entertaining. The absolute highlight arrives when Laibach, long known for their impressive (bizarre, absurd, subversive) covers breaches “Ohne Diche”. “I cannot exist without you” becomes “You cannot exist without me”, a guest female vocalist shows up to deliver the trademark chorus, the instrumentals are entirely reproduced by Laibach themselves; what could have been another tepid, industrial-tinged remix blossoms into a full-blown cover-duet that handily stands alongside (and may for many entirely outclass) the original.

Ultimately, the second remix disc, like so many supplementary remix discs, is completely optional. There are some neat tracks on here, though you aren’t likely to get the sort of traction out of them that demands nearly doubling Made in Germany’s asking price. There are some really cool moments here (all of which can be re-lived through YouTube), however five (of seventeen) thoroughly creative tracks aren’t enough to carry a largely unoriginal hour-and-a-third into necessity territory. An extensive curiosity, and potentially a must-have for collectors, but this supplementary disc fails to add anything essential to Made In Germany beyond the reminder that Rammstein has always led a double-life as both industrial-metal(-dance) act and a full-on club entity. Interesting, and an inevitable part of their history, but not a bonus I’d recommend trading additional currency for.

Disc 2 is getting a thorough 5.5: neat moments, overall complete mediocrity.

The sum total: 6.5

Originally published right here, December 2011. 


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