Electronic musician Skrillex’s 2014 debut full length album Recess (released on the Atlantic label) starts with a track called “All’s Fair in Love and Brostep.” That says almost everything one needs to know about the album, prompting a WTF reaction from all except those people already firmly in the pro-Skrillex camp. The song title also hints at the juvenile mentality that Skrillex (real name Sonny Moore) applied to Recess.
In the same way that Moore’s 2011 EP Bangarang worked to an extent, Recess is best when it sticks to creating 1990s-era electro brought up to date with slick, modern production techniques. Unfortunately, even though it’s fine from a production standpoint, Recess actually seems to be a stylistic regression when taken as a whole. If Bangarang indeed was an indication of the future of electronic music, Recess positions Moore back on a level with his earlier, headshake (or headache?) inducing work on the Gypsyhook and My Name is Skrillex extended plays, as if Moore is trying to re-establish some of the punk cred he earned during his years with From First to Last. Recess is easily his worst release since the 2009-2010 period.
As much as I found earlier Skrillex albums somewhat questionable, Recess plays worse than most of them by actually losing momentum as it goes along. The first tracks here are probably the strongest – and those which I’d be more inclined to call the typical, established Skrillex sound replete with heavy bass and rhythm elements. Ultimately, I can live with the opening numbers, even if their sole reason for existence is to work themselves into the obligatory (and very similar-sounding) moderately-paced breakdowns. Obviously designed mainly for enjoyment by the bass-head, festival-going crowd that seems to have fully embraced Americanized dubstep, each of these initial tracks nevertheless have at least a single moment when I was forced to admit that Moore had stumbled upon a cool melody and rhythm combination. Try as I might, I can’t deny Moore’s production ability since it’s clear that the man can craft some decent hard-edged electronic music.
It’s typically when Moore starts focusing more heavily on vocals that his music tends to lose me a bit, and on Recess, the downward spiral begins around the time of the fifth track “Coast is Clear.” Borrowing Daft Punk’s trademark funk-inspired synth lines along with brass section blasts and even a bit of beatboxing, the song consists of guest vocalist Chance the Rapper making repeated sexual propositions. Even though the beat is peppy, there’s a laziness to the composition of this not-at-all-subtle track – Chance’s spoken command to “dance like it hurts to stand still” comes across more like a plea of desperation in context. Recess gets worse and more gimmicky from there, with less and less actual musicality and more focus on profanity-laden, in-your-face vocals and production excess. The lack of consistency between tracks is also noticeable: aggressive rapping, belchy sound effects, and skittering rhythms overpower “Dirty Vibe,” the obnoxious “Ragga Bomb” adequately replicates the original British style of dubstep but feels forced and uninspired, and the awkwardly-titled (and sounding) “Doompy Poomp” is pure filler, stumbling through a mismatch of sound samples.
After unleashing “FucK That,” a track pushed along by a quirky Aphex Twin-like groove but hindered by mind-numbing repetition of the title, Recess again takes a strange turn with “Ease My Mind.” This moderately quieter, penultimate track has a snaky, middle-eastern vibe established in the keyboard parts, but the melodramatic female vocal seems out of place as she urges a DJ to “play that song again.” It’s a strange request on an album that has not even a single standout track that I’d honestly want to hear more than a few times. I suppose the lyrics of album finale “Fire Away” are meant to connect the track somehow to the opener which introduced the idea of being in outer space (“take me with you when you go / don’t leave me out here on my own”). The heavily manipulated vocals however, among the only ones performed by Moore himself, simply aren’t confident enough to sell the song. Thus, this relatively cheesy, anticlimactic finale comes across as one additional letdown on an album that takes about three steps back for every one forward.
I was reminded in listening to Recess of British electro act The Prodigy who, after hitting gold with their 1997 Fat of the Land album, bombarded the listener with guest appearances galore on their overblown next effort, 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Distancing themselves from the type of sound that brought them into prominence in the first place, The Prodigy have been trying to recapture their initial magic ever since, and it seems that Skrillex has similarly gone off the rails on his debut full-length, putting out a record that doesn't much seem to have come from the same person responsible for previous ones. Recess has some worthwhile moments, but they’re few and far between, lost in what seems like an attempt to expand the Skrillex sound to incorporate more hiphop elements. The end result is a clunky album that has all the bells and whistles one might expect, but too often gets caught up in all the smoke and mirrors. Many of the tracks here go nowhere and do nothing for the listener except waste his time. It’s hardly the legitimate “get up and go” album one would have liked it to be.
5.0 / 10
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