On Monday March 10th at 6.30pm EST, Skrillex’s debut studio album Recess went public. Initially I was taken aback by the fact that Skrillex had never released a full-length studio album. I find my ignorance excusable, as Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex) has prominently been in our social consciousness for some time now, with an extensive and diverse body of work. I’ve been listening to his music since his 2009 remix of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, giving me every right to shamelessly declare, in classic hipster fashion, that I was listening to Skrillex before it was cool. He has become an EDM sensation, a well-respected producer, and an iconic symbol of our generation. From Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites to Make It Bun Dem, Skrillex has been awarded six Grammys (as ridiculous as the Grammys are), composed the soundtracks for the incredible films Wreck-It Ralph and Spring Breakers (the latter is more of a personal favourite), influenced the music of Taylor Swift and Britney Spears, and toured the world in a spaceship with sold-out shows. All without ever releasing a single studio album.
Recess is a courageous release. The first track shows Skrillex’s disregard for labels by introducing the record as Brostep, along with all the negative connotations. It’s a simple track, and apart from the Ragga Twins’ fantastic vocal work it’s uninteresting. It’s flawlessly produced, but this is Skrillex, production quality was never contentious. The title track Recess follows, and once you get over the hilarity of Fatman Scoop yelling “bass drop!” it becomes obvious that Skrillex tailored it for his live shows, through strategic instrument choice. Next is the mediocre and senseless Stranger. Featuring the mindless use of bongos, high-range synthlines and purposeless tempo changes, this track makes Skrillex sound like Thom Yorke if he tried to produce dance music. Oh wait, he has tried, and even that’s better than Stranger (see Jump Up). Luckily for Sonny, the familiar Try It Out follows. He’s back in his comfort zone, hitting us with a gutter-stomping panty-dropper. It’s textbook Dubstep, but it’s hard and it’s good.
Coast is Clear brings the Drum ’n’ Bass with brassy synths, and Chance brings the soul and the romance, with comically brilliant lyrics. But don’t be fooled, because Dirty Vibe is where Diplo comes to play. Shit starts hard, and gets pretty filthy. This is a daggering track, a sweat track, and Diplo’s influence shines all the way through. The Ragga Twins return once again in Ragga Bomb, and they’re back with a vengeance. The dark D’n’B riffs at the beginning work seamlessly with the Twins’ attitude. Then it hits: a phat-as-yo-momma, face-melting bassline that leaves everyone in need of new underwear. Doompy Poomp is exactly what it sounds like; a Glitchcore composition for what is the album’s most experimental track, with a surreal mélange of wahs and pads. If Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice were to have a rave, this would be on repeat. It’s honestly brilliant. Skrillex could’ve simply hit us with more run-of-the-mill Dubstep, but instead he got a hold of his balls and said “fuck it”. He continues to defy boundaries in Fuck That, with crisp percussion and sawing synthlines that build up to classic wubs.
The penultimate track Ease My Mind is a rework of Niki & The Dove, and it’s blatantly handcrafted for radio play. The beginning feels like it belongs on the Frozen soundtrack, but we’re quickly corrected when the crescendo hits, followed by what I can only describe as an Egyptian synthline. He concludes the album on the sombre and remarkable Fire Away. There is substantial vocal rework done to Kid Harpoon’s lyrics, but it is kept within the boundaries provided by the beautiful pads and breathtaking percussion. The percussion deserves a special mention, as I have no idea how Skrillex gave it the smooth and natural character of water. It’s inspiring, and it works perfectly with the piano towards the end. This is, to my knowledge, the first time Skrillex has adopted an Ambient perspective, and it’s truly extraordinary.
Recess was never about Skrillex introducing his sound. This album is about Skrillex expanding his musical horizons and demonstrating to people that he is a musician and not merely a poster boy for Coachella and Stereosonic. He’s demonstrated an astonishing musical palette, and while the beginning is very hit-and-miss, when taken as a whole Recess proves to be an exhilarating experience.