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

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Excision – Virus

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Before we talk about the album, let’s talk about the Brostep. We all know what happened. Along came a loud genre that was popular, so people decided it was stupid. Once everyone stopped with those crappy YouTube remixes of memes, the scene flourished. Excision was integral for the scene. His Shambala mixes were highly anticipated and were a document of where it was at. His two best mixes – of the years 2013 & 2014, showed Brostep turning into something different. It was no longer about plain heaviness, but switching BPM’s and experimenting with odd sounds. When Skrillex collaborated with Justin Bieber, it was expected. That’s how wide-eyed the scene was.

Then something happened to the water all the DJ’s were drinking. Everyone took a step back to a time where it was all about cold heaviness. Never Say Die’s Black Label imprint was a leader in it, and although it had some good releases its influence was incredibly negative. The new producers forgot what made Brostep so appealing in the first place. It’s a Dance genre relying on ridiculousness. The more ridiculous your sounds are, the better it is. The new movement only emphasized some form of darkness. In some ways, it set out to be deliberately anti-Skrillex.

So the result was a lot of dull, heavy and no-fun bangers. The scene stagnated and it’s still in a problem. What should’ve happened a year after Skrillex blew up happened now. Finally, heaviness overpowered it and it’s embarrassing to hear MUST DIE!’s new song with Habstrakt. One of the most inventive producers is now doing nothing but white noise. Sure, there have been highlights. The recent experimentation with Deep House were a success, but overall the scene became monochromatic.

Virus sure feels like it should be the scene’s savior, but keep in mind Excision’s music was rarely as diverse as his mixes. In fact, he was never that diverse, not when compared to Skrillex or Knife Party or these new dudes, Barely Alive. In the current climate, there’s room to worry that Virus would be the finally nail in the coffin – showing Excision completely running out of ideas, missing the entire point and just making a lot of noise.

Thankfully, Virus is closer to getting everything right about a dance album.

In terms of sound, this is still all about brutality and noise. In fact, it’s less experimental than previous albums with no forays into new genres. Drum and Bass is barely here (Only the drumstep thing in “Rave Thing”). House is represented by “Mirror” and other than that, Excision powers through like 2013 never happened. It actually makes him sound of touch. After LAXX and Barely Alive, surely he can come up with some new sounds?

What didn’t change is Excision’s perfect understanding of the genre. Where he differs from the new boys is that there’s no posturing here, no attempt to sound cool by turning the sounds down low. In fact, Excision plays this record like 2015 never happened, either. It’s soaked in the mid-range madness of 2011, when it was all about roaring and being ridiculous. How else can you explain “Rave Thing”? It was out of place back in the 2015 mixes, where it roared and wobbled while everyone just growled. It’s a track that constantly ups the ante, that takes the most parody-esque elements and exaggerates them. As an attempt to out-Skrillex Skrillex, it’s quite brilliant.

Virus reminds me of why I love the genre it’s the first place. It’s so ridiculous, so oblivious to classy dance music. “Neck Brace” has Messinian, and he roars more than he raps. The drop imitates machine guns, but the sounds is right between midrange and low-range. “Harambe” literally stomps like a gorilla while alternating between the sounds of its 3 producers. “Throwin’ Elbows” shows Excision can still mine this style for new sounds. At this point, he doesn’t pretend to be concerned about rhythm. The drop consists of what sounds like laser beams shooting and the sound of reloading. As for “The Paradox”, it’s a brave attempt to make a defining song. Something is missing – it doesn’t as ridiculous as it should – but it would be an attention-grabber in any mix and would require an immediate change of BPM.

A dance album can’t rely on a single idea though. Even Dance artists whose genres are defined by heaviness switch it up. What’s odd is how Excision does these switches. There’s a foray to House in “Mirror” which borrows from the whole ‘bass house’ thing, but it’s not too alien. Excision is finally comfortable with guitars. They’re not sampled any more. “Throwin’ Elbows” is loud as hell, and can “Death Wish” be classified as an EDM song at all? It’s a Rap song with guitars for a chorus. Sure, there are Trap drums but the guitars play riffs.

The oddest excursions are to the sort of melodic Brostep most producers stick for tokenism. Excision now throws himself fully at them. There are 3 such tracks, and for once they have a purpose other than offering a break. “Drowning” has a glacial, sad quality to it. Compare it to “With You” which appears near the end. The former song doesn’t actually have a melody, but sound design meant to create atmosphere. “Her” has Dion Timmer’s chimpmunk vocals singing about a heartbreak over a weird drop. It’s somewhere between melodic and wobbling, creating this odd feeling of heartbreak and acceptance. It’s an odd moment of beauty that’s rare in the genre.

If you look at the tracklist you probably wonder how can you sit through 16 minutes of Brostep. It’s quite easy, actually. Making a dance album isn’t too hard. All you need to do is make sure everything bangs and there’s enough variety. All the brutal tracks bang, and there’s enough offer a break while keeping the rhythm going – “Are You Ready?” is the only attempt towards contemporary Brostep and it’s a nice stepdown, and while “Mirror” isn’t as good as his other House tracks it’s a welcome break. The only problem is putting “Harambe” as a closer, especially when “The Paradox” is right before it. The latter is epic, huge and roaring. It’s a climax. “Harambe” stomps like a mid-mix banger, a track that comes with no build-up and immediately locks you in its groove. As a closer, it’s perhaps the worst song.

Virus isn’t exactly what I want from Excision right now. I want to see the genre expanding, mixing with others and creating one of the most vibrant musical movements. Excision is still content in the midrange, but at least he backs up his obsession. When it comes to loud, midrange Brostep then all I want are tracks like “Neck Brace”, “Harambe”, “The Paradox” and “G Shit”. Hopefully, this will spread and the new riddim movement will die.

3.5 dead gorillas out of 5

Parasyte: The Maxim (Kiseiju: Sei no Kakuritsu)

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Humans are bad. They ruin the beautiful planet earth. No, wait, humans are actually good and all bad people aren’t humans. Eating meat is evil, or it’s a part of nature. Killers kill because they’re unrestrained and society is the only thing that keeps us from killing all that surrounds us. Planet earth is beautiful, and the fate of the world is in the hands of a teenage sex bomb and his, well, talking hand. Also, bass occasionally drops.

The concept isn’t bad. A talking hand gains automatic Cool Points and it doesn’t prevent the story from exploring deeper things. Having a sex bomb for a main character isn’t a death sentence. It’s when the anime juggles 90’s Sci-Fi weirdness with no insight or boldness. The parasites are cool at first, but not for 24 episodes. Shinichi is a good-natured sex bomb and people are evil because they’re evil, so where’s the shock value?

The problem with Parasyte isn’t that it’s stupid. The problem is that it wants to be smart. Too many times it points to a bigger idea, something about human nature and eating meat. Then it undoes every insight it has by having sex bomb characters, pornographic violence and cheap emotional manipulation. The techniques don’t match the aim of the anime.

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Parasyte ends up joining the ranks of pretentious grimdark anime who think violence equals depth. The violence is fun for a while. Limbs are torn off without a second thought. The Parasytes distort the human body in Cronenberg’s favorite ways. You can’t carry an entire show based on that though. The creators quickly run out of visual ideas. Besides the blades, muscle tissue and eyeballs everywhere the Parasytes don’t have much to offer. Blood stops being shocking after a few gallons. The action scenes are hardly action scenes. A lot of fighting is simply blades clanging in the speed of light.

Clearly, the series wants to be more than a silly Sci-Fi story about bodysnatchers. It’s hard to take it seriously when the lead character is a sex bomb and nobody points out how weird it is. Every female character with a speaking role expresses interest in him. The teenage ones’ affection are clearly towards romantic. Does that sound like a harem premise to you?

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The difference between this anime and other harems is that it’s serious. It never addresses the fact all the females somehow love Shinichi. Yes, it should considering it happens so much. There’s even beating up of another girl’s asshole boyfriend. From a distance, the abundance of female characters is nice since stories like these are often criticized for the lack of female presence. Then again, if the main thing they do is to stroke the main character’s ego what’s the point?

Having sex bombs for characters in such serious shows is always funny. While the anime preaches to us about how horrible the world is, how horrible humans are and how dare we eat meat it forgets losers and winners are everywhere. Sexuality isn’t some antidote to our violent nature. Sexuality and violence go hand-in-hand. Both have winners and losers, defeaters and defeated. The difference is, violence is more fair. Unless you disabled, you can use your fist. I guess the creators are all sex bombs too.

Is calling Shinichi ‘privileged’ making me look insensitive? He loses people left and right, and yet he still comes off as a boring, privileged dude. External and internal troubles are not the same thing. Although a lot of terrible things happen to Shinichi, he has no internal struggle. He has no lens through which to view the horror.

 

Attack on Titan is an obvious comparison. Both deal with an epic battle of humanity against another being, and in the center is a teenage superhero. Eren also loses loved ones and is knee deep in the abyss. Unlike Shinichi, he has a clear personality through which the suffering is filtered. Eren doesn’t just feel bad over his troubles. He views them in his idealistic, hero-delusional lens. In contrast, Yukki (Future Diary) and Shinji (Neon Genesis Evangelion) react to the danger with fear and avoidance. Shinichi has no such lens. He gets sad and screams in sorrow for a while.

Nothing actually drives him. Survival doesn’t count, since all organism are driven by survival (or well-being). He’s barely active in the story. Things happen to him and that’s it. The only decision he makes are whether to fight or flee. It almost sounds clever, since the anime wants to say something about how humans are still animals. Only it’s not true, of course. Humans are the only organism who are aware of their own death, of their consciousness. You need such cognitive abilities to start thinking about existence. The Parasytes start going existential, too.

Characters die all the time. The light/dark contrast is clever and will never lose its shine. Here it ends up being a cheap trick. Nearly every character that’s introduced will die. Some die in the same episode they’re introduced. Others are lucky to survive a few more episodes. The game of ‘who will die next?’ may entertain some, but that’s just gruesome RealiTV. It’s easy to recognize who will die and how. Many characters die so Shinichi can grieve over them, feel bad and then not change. He doesn’t have a personality that can change. The result is cheap manipulation of the viewer. Introduce a character, makes us relate to them and then rip their heads off.

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There is a little spark, a little energy here. The anime is based on an old manga, and you can see it. The tropes and storytelling style all belongs in an older time, of moral heroes and sci-fi paranoia. It’s another thing that’s almost clever. They could’ve mixed the moral heroism/optimism of Shinichi with the 90’s techno-paranoia that gave us “Spaceman”. There’s no attempt to bridge these two, though. Shinichi is moral for convenience and the darkness is here to shock. He would’ve probably been one of Reznor’s ‘pigs’ with how bland he is, or one of Manson’s Beautiful People.

It’s nice the soundtrack keeps up with the times and gives us Bass Music of all kinds. I love Skrillex and Zomboy and Knife Party and all these. The soundtrack is so good, in fact, that I hope it will make its way to Excision’s Shambhala mixes. Sadly, the few bass drops don’t make up for a shitty story. They make it slightly more bearable.

Parasyte is crap. There’s no way around it. What starts off as fairly bizarre loses its shine quickly. It’s another grimdark anime where people die violently and this is somehow reflective of how terrible life is. Parasyte plays a little more with light and dark, but in the end it all leads back to the abyss. Don’t expect the depths you can get by going to suicide communities though. It’s so much of an abyss as it is a black wall.

1.5 bad Cronenberg movies out of 5

Knife Party: An Overview

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Knife Party are a weird story. It seems whenever Rob Swire tries something, he immidiately moves to something else. This technique can lead to a very diverse catalogue, but that’s not really what happens in this case. It seems Swire is more afraid of repeating himself than wanting to explore new ground, He shouldn’t be. Both Pendulum and Knife Party mastered their genres. While he abandoned Pendulum soon enough before they will lose their personality, Knife Party was different.

It started well enough. Their first two EP’s were released in the span of 2011-12. This was the beginning of Brostep’s traditional sound, a little before wild experimentation became common. The dominating sounds were mid-range bass wobbles and laser-like blips. Adding a little melody was common, but they always used abrasive sounds for that.

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The first EP mastered that style. The scene had a lot of talented producers but no one matched Skrillex. No one could make their Brostep as ridiculous as his. His music was almost a self-parody. Knife Party sounded exactly like Skrillex but got it right. “Fire Hive” either screams in your ear or bass-talks. “Destroy Them With Lazers” has bass roars and lazer sounds.

It was almost a classic. It could have been, actually. Knife Party also released a DJ mix with some unreleased tracks which were just as good. There’s no reason not to release “The Box” or “Suffer”. The dumbest decision was to scrap “Zoology” which featured Skrillex. There’s a full-length version which is possible the original and not just a fanmade remake. Anyway, that song epitomizes what was so good about the scene. It had the funky rhythm of Moombahton but with the Heavy Metal aggression of Brostep.

Rage Valley was even better. Every song tackled a different genre and made everything around it feel a little pointless. “Centipede” is ridiculously heavy and it’s not actually loud. It’s just the BOOM at the beginning of the drop that makes it so intense. “Bonfire” was a hit that deserved all the hype. It switches constantly from roars, mid-range and melodic synths. Every little part is catchy on its own, and the alternating between them gives it a hyperactive energy. The sound of the drums is also perfect. Although “Sleaze” isn’t as good as “Zoology”, it first showed that Knife Party could make bangers without being loud.

Things started go downhill with Haunted House. It’s a great EP, but this is where Rob Swire focused on Not Being Brostep rather than making good music. The result is trend-hopping. It’s not so bad here because “LRAD” destroys almost every other Big Room track. It’s hard to think of a Big Room track that matches it and isn’t made by a Brostep artist. There’s “Wizard” and “Epic”, but that’s it. The VIP mix of “Internet Friends” also destroys the original. It adds more to the first drop and adds a Brostep one at the end. If you don’t count “Zoology” because it’s unreleased, then that’s their masterpiece.

Abandon Ship was where Rob Swire got completely lost. There were some traditional tracks there. There was some experimental tracks that kept the aggression. “404”, for example, is a weirder version of Big Room that’s pure genius. A lot of the tracks see Knife Party hopping on trends that aren’t very good, or they don’t give them a new spin.

“EDM Trend Machine” bangs, but there’s nothing unique or charming about it. It’s a very straightforward Deep House track. “Begin Again” and “Red Dawn” tackle worse trends. The former is an Avicii rip-off that’s saved only because of SWire’s vocals and the structure. The second is an attempt to stick a few samples from ethnic music to make us think it’s original. It sounds like a David Guetta B-Side (only with better production).

All of it bangs (except “DIMH” which has no point), but it saw Knife Party shedding their ‘seizure music’ and replacing it with, what exactly? Inoffensive dance music? I know that loudness isn’t actually praised in EDM. The best-selling tracks in Beatport are rarely weird or inventive or ridiculous. It’s mostly a typical House track with those annoying Melbourne Bounce sounds. It’s something that’s kind of rhythmic, kind of melodic but never anything that will distract you from staring at bouncing tits.

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Why did Knife Party try to appeal to him, making dance music that’s suited to fade to the background? Their latest EP is the worst offender. For some moronic reason they decided their collaboration with Tom Morello will be on his album (We already heard that promise) and replaced it with a JAUZ remix. They should’ve kept the remix and get rid of “Kraken” or “PLUR Police”. If Abandon Ship had some quirky or odd moments,this has none. The drops here are exactly the same, only using slightly different notes. The wobbles and bass plucks of “Parliament Funk” are great, but that’s one song out of 3. They couldn’t even make a different second drop.

I don’t get it. I understand getting disillusioned with a scene. Many artists moved away from these sounds, but they expanded their horizons. Skrillex, Kill the Noise, Dillon Francis and even Barely Alive aren’t just about 140 BPM drops with bass growls. Dillon and KTN actually released average LP’s, but they pushed themselves and tried new ideas. KTN mixed his bass growls with Deep House or did a weird Disco track. Dillon tried his hand at producing Pop music and it worked.

Knife Party have very high levels of production. As generic as “PLUR Police” is, it still sounds better than anything like it. I hope the new EP was just a transition record, something they had to get out of their system. Their previous material is some of the best Bass Music has to offer. For all of Rob’s cynicism, that’s his scene. There’s no reason to move away from it. Aggression may dominate, but experimentation is encouraged. The top labels have plenty of weird artists in them. Never Say Die did sign LAXX after all. Hopefully, Knife Party will come back to themselves. If not, we still got 3 classic EP’s and a decent LP.

Next up: Top 10 Knife Party songs.