Album Reviews | Skrillex – Recess (2014)

Wake Me UpLet’s get something straight: we’re still in the early days of the electronic music revolution. To be honest, this recent wave is really more computer music than electronic music — we have had electronic music for decades — so it’s really more accurate to label this the current electronic music revolution. But hey, everyone’s calling it EDM (electronic dance music), so for the purposes of discussion, we’ll just call everything that fits into this latest craze “electronic music.” Probably the best-known artist of this movement is Skrillex — he’s the first EDM artist that came to my attention maybe two years ago now when he started generating buzz — and it’s been a pretty long wait to see what his debut album would sound like. After fellow DJ Avicii scored a huge hit with “Wake Me Up” and recording with a lot of acoustic instruments on his 2013 debut LP True, Skrillex has opted for a much different approach for his own initial offering, Recess.

I have never been to one of his shows (or any EDM show or rave, period), so I’m really not sure how Recess compares to what we would hear at one of Skrillex‘s performances, but I would imagine this is pretty similar. From what I have caught in passing, EDM DJs tend to emphasize climaxing as many times as possible when they perform live, and frankly, I’m not terribly interested in attending a show in person. There just doesn’t seem to be any art to it due to its excessive emphasis on the “moment,” but to his credit, Skrillex has wisely avoided this tactic on Recess, and as a result, it’s not the kind of obnoxious, vapid drivel that populates EDM events across the globe now. That being said, some of the tracks on Recess get pretty tiresome after a couple listens and reveal themselves to be pretty empty. Don’t get me wrong, most of the album has form (which can’t be said of the live EDM I have experienced thus far), but some of this feels pretty gimmicky rather quickly.

Try It OutMuch of what’s here is just surface fluff, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but what really affects the album’s listening life is its utter lack of textural variation. After a few listens, it becomes painfully clear as you begin to pull everything together that not only is the presentation paramount, but the music isn’t even dressed up in a particularly interesting way. It’s mostly flash, though there are, however, some really fun tracks here like the title track, “Try It Out” and “Fuck That.” But that’s just it: it’s fun and likely won’t amount to much that’s lasting. This is a natural hurdle that EDM artists will have to clear as they transition from the stage to the studio: constructing recorded material is an entirely different arena, and fashioning an entire LP of said material that isn’t repetitive or exhausting — which Recess reveals itself to be after a few listens — is a particularly difficult challenge indeed, given the genre.

That being said, Avicii managed it with True, but he opted to essentially not make an EDM album, while Skrillex has fully embraced the full-blown zippiness of EDM on record. As a result, Recess plays like a club set, and your enjoyment of it will depend on whether or not this is your cup of tea to begin with. The few songs I mentioned will continue to get plays for the rest of this year while I make my favorite songs of 2014 list; the rest will likely fade.

Recess is a promising start for Skrillex and the larger community of EDM artists, but there is lots of room for improvement when it comes to translating live shows into innovative material that can stand on its own as a sustainably strong studio release.
  • Light and fun; some good grooves too
  • Strongly replicates the intensity of what a club show must sound like
  • Some really strong tracks ("Recess," "Try It Out," "Fuck That")
  • Compositions could be stronger and less repetitive and exhausting
  • Songs get pretty samey; not a lot of textural variation here
  • Severe dynamic range compression

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