The Crystal Method – Tweekend

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The Crystal Method has been written off as inferior carbon copies of Big Beat, and also that they did a ‘dumb, American version of it’. Snobbish people had to convince themselves that the Prodigy made profound music involving social commentary and existential questions when in reality they did nothing but really, really catchy noise. At first this label of the Crystal Method is a bit deserved. Their debut is a collection of cool Breaks with some funky Sci-Fi sounds. It had a cool sound, but few songs. Here, though, they truly come together and cement themselves as canonical in the electronic genre. Tweekend is one of the reasons why Big Beat remains EDM’s best genre.

Since by now every artist in the genre cemented their sound – Prodigy with their loud rocking, Fatboy Slim with his smoothness, Chemical Brothers with their genre-bending, Crystal Method had to find some kind of shtick that makes them unique. The whole ‘simple breaks and cool sounds’ was rendered irrelevant in ChemBros’ debut, where they converted it into some of music’s best 30 seconds. So they try to find a new, defining sound here – and they mostly succeed.

They still sound like newcomers, but not in the bad way. It’s obvious their sources of inspiration include the aforementioned artists, not just the genres influencing Big Beat. You get here a more clearer picture of what Big Beat is, and why every soda pop commercial wanted this kind of music. Whereas the Prodigy made Breakbeat fueled by guitar noise, Crystal Method seeked the specific kinetic energy that the genres happened to create. The originators were inspired by other genres. Here, Crystal Method are directly inspired by the originators.

That’s the main distinction between this album and their debut. Now they don’t just want to bang, but to make music that works like a martial arts scene or a car race. It’s music that was made for video games of that era, when violence was cartoonish, cars were fast (and possibly shot rockets) and everything was larger than life. It’s the end of the retro-future. Our image of the future and technological development wasn’t of peace but of combat and lasers, but boy do we like it. The album cover fits the atmosphere of it, watching a world becoming more technological and being okay with it.

At this point you can compare it to Electro-Industrial, and Big Beat always shared similar sounds and influence – and an ability to fit ideally most video games and movies. Oh, and yes, composers were stupid enough not to ask the dudes from Front Line Assembly to score The Matrix. Whereas the Industrial movement was scared of that future, this music jumps into it. It’s inevitable, so we might as well party.

That’s why it manages to have a fairly aggressive, macho sound without copying the Prodigy’s rebel punk antics. A funky bounce is underneath most of the songs, even the noise blast that is “Name of the Game”. There they let Ryu rap about how awesome he is over Morello’s riffing. Aside from being a fantastic idea for a song, the bass is deep and womping underneath all that noise. On some tracks the funk is more prominent – if you can sit still to “Roll It Up”, you may want to check things with your doctor.

It’s funny that they were branded as a dumber American dumbing down, since they actually play more with atmosphere than most Big Beat artists. In fact, they lead back to Progressive House than any other in the genre. “Roll It Up” and “Blowout” have a continous structure and a looping beat that threatens to last forver. There are few actual riffs here, sometimes appearing on songs like “Murder” and “PHD” but serving the beat rather than taking the center stage. Many of the sounds here surrounded and engulf the listener rather than pound into it.

What was seen as ‘dumb American’ is just the band getting the essence of Big Beat, if not exactly making the best album in the genre. Then again their competition includes ChemBros, so it’s by nature difficult. This album distills Big Beat from the outside influence, keeping what’s important – Hip-Hop breaks, a Funk bounce, Techno structures and the aggression of Rock. That still gives them a lot of room to move even if they never threaten to break away, but what great songs – “PHD” with its slower funk, “Roll It Up” in how spacey it sounds, “Murder” gives a badass melodic hook and “Over the Line” shows they can also be beautiful and more introspective. Being raised on albums like these made me wonder why EDM isn’t supposed to be an ‘album genre’. Even the weakest tracks like “The Winner” still bang. Perhaps you can cut a minute here and a minute there, but this is one of those “If you don’t like it, you’re no fun” albums.

3.5 murders out of 5

Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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Panic at the Disco were never ’emo’. They were never even similar to the bands that people mis-classified as Emo. They had Punk-Pop elements, yes, but they were more experimental and glam than their peers. When Fall Out Boy and Chemical Romance traded the punkish hooks for experimentation, it sounded like a band trying to justify their huge fanbase. When Panic reinvented themselves over and over, it was just something they were made to do.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. Urie stomps and brags over a Hip-Hop backing while forgetting to rap. Fall Out Boy released a very similar song recently too. This is what happens to all successful rock bands. After you’re victorious, selling records and getting groupies what is there to sing about?

Stadium is the logical end of any band that relied on hooks for success. Some bands still pretend they have a serious message to deliver. Others, like Papa Roach, still give us angsty lyrics only with friendly melodies. They make it clear that the bands aren’t struggling, but they hope the songs will help you.

Since Panic never complained much about life, they choose (more correctly, Urie chooses) the hedonistic approach. There are a lot of lyrics about partying, drugs and being a bad motherfucker. The biggest influence on this album isn’t Frank Sinatra. Did Frank display the arrogance Urie shows in “Victorious” or “The Good, The Bad…”? For most of the album, Urie tells people either to fuck off, step their game up or how great he is. When he’s not doing that, he tells us he parties hard. It’s no different than your average Rap song on the radio.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s actually what Rock music needs right now. Rock music suffered too much of over-seriousness. Ever since Nirvana, every rock star decided to make the audience a psychotherapist. Some Nu Metal or Punk Pop bands added a little fun, but a lot of Rock was just noise to think deep thoughts during recess. I can still remember the days when we considered fun music to be meaningless and therefore bad.

These songs are great. Urie is convincing in his arrogance and I don’t expect anything less of a rock star with fan girls. Urie sounds so confident that “Crazy=Genius” almost sounds stupid. What kind of lover would doubt him after hearing him on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? On “The Good, the Bad…” he sounds like he will continue smiling even if he’ll receive 1000 punches.

Urie also experiments with genres a bit, but they’re never full-blown experiments. It’s odd to hear no guitars on “Emperor’s New Clothes”, but he never lets the genre he experiments with to take over. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Urie is a charismatic enough singer to hold his own. The hooks are better than ever, but you do wish Urie would go further. If he’s so confident as he presents himself, why doesn’t he try to rap on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Why doesn’t “Victorious” contains a Skrillex-inspired bass drop although it begs to?

As expected, it’s the ballads that fail. They’re not terrible, but they’re a huge step down. They reek of tokenism. Urie may like Sinatra, but he doesn’t have the same kind of voice. He can’t replicate that atmosphere. A few horns and vocal acrobatics don’t make you Sinatra or Dean Martin. They have a specific style of melodies and of singing.

The title-track doesn’t suffer too much since it still has the old rock star arrogance. The obligatory closing ballad is a huge step down. Instead of channeling the influence and making a throwback, it’s just your ordinary piano ballad at the end of a rock album. Ballads often stick like a sore thumb in an album full of party tracks.

These two and a few other, more serious tracks make the record less focused. Urie plays the party tracks with full conviction, but he’s unsure how exactly to imitate Sinatra. Without this focus, the album fails to be the big statement it should have been. It’s still a great record full of hooks and variety, though. Maybe Pretty Odd was Panic’s classics and they will never improve on it, but Urie is far sounding out of ideas.

3.5 naked emperors out of 5

Knife Party – Abandon Ship

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There are two ways to view this album, both of which are related. There’s an attempt to follow the blueprint for every good dance album. Artists that follow this blueprint make sure that first and foremost their tracks bang, and then surround them with quirks and amusing ideas to make them memorable. There’s also an attempt at a statement-making album. Knife Party tells us they are beyond the Bass Music scene. Why would they try to go beyond it is a mystery. It’s a scene that spawned LAXX, Skrillex, Excision, MUST DIE! and Barely Alive. Unlike the bland European house that Knife Party borrows from them a bit, Bass Music artists actually understand how dance music works.

Either way, this statement is a failure. Knife Party’s version of being ‘experimental’ is merely avoiding Brostep. Many of the ideas they replace the Brostep with are not only less original, but are not worth exploring. “Red Dawn” relies on a Middle Eastern melody, and this one-note idea makes it sound like a DJ tool by some Martin Garrix clone. The melodic “Kaledioscope” is just a less progressive Orbital, and “Begin Again” is Hardwell or Avicii with better vocals. “EDM Trend Machine” doesn’t add anything to the modern Deep House formula. The snippet of Brostep and Big Room before the drop doesn’t change much. It’s barely a second, so it doesn’t leave any effect. This idea was later improved on by Getter’s “Dubstep Is Dead”, who used this structure much more effectively. He also added a Hardstyle drop.

Another problem with these songs is that Knife Party operates in an area they don’t feel comfortable with and show little understanding of it. “Going soft” seems radical for an artist as aggressive as Knife Party, but the aggressive tracks sound much more inspired. It makes you wonder if Rob Swire only churned “Kaledioscope” just to say that he can do more than make noise, but why would he avoid making loud noises if this is where he’s most inspired? “404”, “Micropenis” and “Boss Mode” are just as aggressive as anything by Excision, and this time the quirks actually work. There’s a chiptune breakdown in the middle of “Micropenis” that sounds jarring at first, but actually fits in such overblown music. “Boss Mode” is a Drumstep track masquerading as Twerk. “404” is pure mayhem. The melodic build-up is the only thing stable about. Error sounds, glitches and a Big Room drop that takes the genre to its extreme. Even their attempt at Disco in “Superstar” sounds like they added a little funk to “404” instead of borrowing their ideas from Daft Punk. Disco never had such hard drums.

Rob SWire’s attempts at originality failed, but it barely harms the quality of Abandon Ship. As a dance album, it’s fantastic. Every single track here is a banger. The aggressive tracks are much stronger than the softer ones, but even the soft ones are good enough to not let the album down. It’s a testament to Knife Party’s talents that “Begin Again” is as a good as it is. Give it to Hardwell or Avicii or Armin Van Something, and you’d get white noise. In the hands of Knife Party, this style of melodic house sounds like it has a future. It’s not just Rob’s vocals. When the drop comes, it’s focused more on an uplifting atmosphere, and it doesn’t rely just on its drop anyway. The drop in “EDM Trend Machine” is being done to death, but there’s still a great bassline there. Only “D.I.M.H.” is bad. It’s a bland, melodic track that is supposed to be ‘traditional’. If it is, I’m glad Leftfield and Underworld destroyed that trash. There’s no way the people behind “Give It Up” made such a shoddy production job.

Once you get over the pretense that this album is more original than its peers, it’s a great dance album that gets everything right. Knife Party’s transition to album should’ve come earlier. Abandon Ship actually feels too small. It could definitely use a few more tracks, perhaps an actual drum and bass one or another moombahton. Despite Rob Swire’s attempt, Abandon Ship belongs to the Bass Music section and another example of how exciting and underrated that genre is. Just forget about “D.I.M.H.”.

3.5 abandoned ships out of 5