by Stuart Silva
Porter Robinson is making his mark with his late Summer studio debut album : Worlds. Another young rising star: already making the Beatport top 100, and already touring around and hitting the main stages during his final teen years. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, all you need to hear is hit single “Languages” and I guarantee you’ll recognize it. But for those who are not in the know, there is an air of controversy that surrounds his latest singles, and his labor of love album.
Porter has expressed his opinions on EDM in interviews and made it well known that he is not pleased working with the current state of the genre. The sometimes overly formulaic style of the genre has stagnated in the area of making a real connection to the audience, and that was a hindrance to his creativity and excitement.
In an interview with Radio.com he expressed how he came to make a huge shift in his music style, “If I cast off everything, even the fact that I’m supposed to be a DJ, this idea that the music needs to make people jump up and down. What if I totally issued all of that in favor of the most personal thing that I can make. And once I started writing music with that in mind, I was hooked. It was the most gratifying thing ever.”
Deciding to stop running with the pack, for a more personal career with music, was a bold move, but thankfully his talent and huge following allowed him to make a clean break and carve his own path.
But what are the result of his bold step? When you look it at it from an objective, categorical perspective; Worlds is a world apart from dance music. From the slower pace, to the high range synthy vocals ,and shimmering, yet simple riffs; this album has associated his work with the likes of M83, Passion Pit, and Owl City in the ever popular Indietronica and Indie pop genres. The similarities strike you right off the bat on the first track “Divinity” as sharp chopped vocals surge and the crash of percussions and a slow, simple riff floods the the track with chiptune riffs joining in shortly. This track, and most, if not all, of the others follows a slow pop like cadence: dying down in intensity, just to hit harder on the next go around.
The style isn’t innovative on a grander scale, but on the level of the individual artist, it shows a lot progress heading in a new direction and meets the goals he set out for himself. Still many people have compared his work to other who have came before, and not always rightfully so. His tracks “Flicker” and “Fresh Static Show” have lend themselves to comparisons to Skrillex’s “I Wish All The Luck In The World” and “Make Things For Smile” both using chopped vocals and highly affected vocals, almost to the point of being unintelligible. However, this comparison is limited to that effect and shouldn’t be made for the sake of smearing his talent.
The style of this album has admittedly been influenced by video game soundtracks and Japanese pop culture staples like anime. And while those influences aren’t in-your-face obvious, the composition of the tracks do take you to a virtual space mapped out by his use of background to foreground movement of his instruments and effects. “Natural Light” showcases this level of sound design as the different sounds track farther out in one progression and zoom in closer in the next to a slow moving, hypnotic melody and subtle percussion line.
Where this album does drop off is with it’s repetition from one track to the next. Where there are vocals, they are usually revolving a theme that has already been touched on by another indie pop group and sung in a way that makes your mind point to the most familiar group, if not the three who he collaborated with. For someone who already is a fan of indie pop, this is all well and good, but to someone who isn’t, the level of similarity creates a repetition that takes away from the instrumentals of the track.
Finally, the elephant in the room, the track that has produced mixed feelings among the fans, even to the point of leaving each other nasty YouTube comments (go figure), “Fellow Feelings”. The track starts of with a very somber, and emotional violin, taking a slow pace before lapsing into bouncy dance music beat and keys. That track gains more context when the spoken vocals say during a moment of pause “Now please, hear what I hear”. It is at that moment when the track takes a 180 degree turn and drops, churning and aggressive bass beat followed by a breaking loop of noise which only becomes more hellish. In an instant you’re transported to an underground industrial nightclub filled with thumping beats, static, high pitched chirps, and squeals of metal on metal violence. This section ends with more spoken vocals, “Let me explain, this ugliness, this cruelty, this repulsiveness will all die out. And now I cry for all that is beautiful.” Then the violins rise again in volume, and meaning. To some, this is a message, a satire maybe, of what EDM has become. Fans have ran with it, calling jihad on contemporary EDM. But some, like me, hear a startling yet electrifying and very stimulating surge of aggressive emotion. Either way, the controversy stems back to Porter Robinson’s opinions, which truly sound modest in intent so it would be hard to believe that this track would be a much harsher manifestation of his criticisms.
To tie it all up, this album and future works like should continue to be promoted as Indietronica. It fits nicely in that category and would pull more fans into ever growing genre. But it would be difficult to say this is an album that transcends the two genres, since it clearly wants to lean right into indie, and have little to do with dance music.