Beat by Beat Review: Porter Robinson - Worlds
Porter Robinson has made us feel 16 again, in a good way.
The first time I heard about Porter Robinson was at Electric Zoo in 2011, and may have rolled my eyes at his attempts to be macho: He whipped off his shirt during a particularly energetic track, and peppered his set with cheesy DJ drops that said things like "It's your boy Porter Robinson." It wasn't a great first impression; he seemed pretty arrogant and immature, and I wasn't into hard electro EDM, anyway. His new album, Worlds, is more aimed at people like me: Snobs who associated him with trance-influenced styles of dreadfully populist dance music. The campaign around this album emphasized how the songs here weren't aimed at festivals or dance floors, and back in May, he reiterated how "un-EDM" this record would in his THUMP on 1 interview.
Mission accomplished. Worlds takes the hallmarks of EDM production—huge trance melodies, synth blasts, ear-pounding beats—and translates them to the aural universe beyond the main stage. Porter dabbles in disco, ambient music, new wave, orchestral symphonies, dubstep, noise, and more, and creates some really interesting stylistic hybrids in the process. It's an album that reminds me less of the stuff I heard at Electric Zoo in 2011 and more of the electro-indie crossover bands I loved as a teenager. Moreover, Worlds reminds me of being a teenager, because it perfectly encapsulates the nostalgic-for-the-present feeling I got whenever I was having a lot of fun.
1. "Divinity (feat. Amy Millan)" - The opening track on Worlds is a festival rave anthem contorted into an indie-electronic crossover jam with a squawking synth reminiscent of M83's "Midnight City." The lyrics reflect the emotional rush of raving—"Never felt so live" layered over epic synth blasts and arpeggiated 8-bit melodies—but in context, they also recall that overwhelming sensation you get as a teenager when you're driving around with the windows down and a car full of friends listening to MGMT.
2. "Sad Machine" - This might be the first ever duet with a robot. Although I can't imagine that Porter is the very first young, banger-making guy to sing tenderly on one of his tracks, his vocal itself still feels novel—not to mention ballsy. After all, it's hard to imagine Borgore cooing lovesick lyrics. Guess this just goes to show that Porter's man enough to show his soft side.
3. "Years of War (feat. Breanne Duren & Sean Caskey)" - Many of the tracks on Worlds sound like they were inspired by New Wave—or at least, inspired by other artists who were inspired by New Wave, like M83. The result is refreshing, because songs like this one don't sound overtly referential or tied to their influences. Here, a trance synth takes the lead, which adds a uniquely contemporary element to the more retro elements, like the boom-clap beat and sepia-toned synths.
4. "Flicker" - Four tracks in and Porter starts to expand his palette of sounds and references. "Flicker" opens with a summer-y disco guitar lick that cradles some babbling in what seems like Japanese, and eventually opens up into hands-in-the-air synth blasts. Porter never gets overwhelmed by his influences, which seem to extend farther back into history than most producers in his field—it's just a bit of a shame that disco is one of them. *Shots fired.*
5. "Fresh Static Snow" - A coiled, metallic guitar squall leads to midrange bass grit, which in turn gives way to a celestial breakdown and more sad robot vocals. This one will probably resonate with 16-year-olds who got into dubstep in 8th grade and now need something to soundtrack the first time they feel up their crush in their mom's car.
6. "Polygon Dust (feat. Lemaitre)" - Another slow-motion festival anthem with a lead trance synth that whips around like the head of a Diplodocus. Somehow, this feels like one of the safer tracks on an album full of risks—the vocal is nice and easy (as opposed to weirdly alien, as on "Sad Machine" and "Fresh Static Snow"), and the synth blasts don't seem to hit as hard here.
7. "Hear the Bells (feat. Imaginary Cities)" - I've never heard a track from Imaginary Cities, but this is exactly I would have expected them to sound like: Layered indie vocals that would be at home in a band like Givers, sentimental lyrical themes, and electronic instrumentation that wouldn't alienate listeners who (think they) hate dance music. It's tracks like this that make me think this album would have struck a chord with me in high school, when I craved music that could capture the overwhelming amount of emotions teens feel, and when I was still too rockist to admit that I liked techno. And by no means is that a slight to this track—those albums are epic for life.
8. "Natural Light" - Porter Robinson could really have a future as an ambient artist or a one of those guys who produces minimal clickity-clackity house beats. It'd be hard to call this track minimal—it's got loads of surging bass, tinny drum hits, vocal snippets, and twinkling keys—but in the context of the rest of this album, it certainly is. This one is less than 2.5 minutes long, which means it's way too short. I'm gonna need a 10 minute-long edit, please, Mr. Robinson.
9. "Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)" - Is this seriously the house tempo first track on Worlds? [*scans through other tracks quickly*] That's pretty impressive, actually. Another successful combination of windows-down teen nostalgia and rave-friendly power synths.
10. "Sea Of Voices" - This was the first track I heard from Worlds, and it blew me away. I've blabbed about it to my snob friends and gushed about how he's crafted the first ambient EDM track I've ever heard. A beat kicks in later, but the first few minutes pit slow-moving big room synths against…nothing. No drums.
11. "Fellow Feeling" - If Blawan played the segment of this track between 2:30 and 3:10 in a set of nose-bleed techno, Habits of Hate tracks, and the rowdier releases from PAN, literally no one in the supposedly-discerning crowd of dubstep-hating, Trilogy Tapes shirt-wearing chin-strokers would notice the difference. The orchestral string segment at the beginning of "Fellow Feeling" is a cool idea in theory, but I can't really imagine it ever working. Still, it's impressive to see how much stylistic ground Porter can cover in six minutes.
12. "Goodbye to a World" - The melancholy robot girl reappears on the closer, which oscillates between woozy lullaby-like moments and periods of fist-pumping brutality.
Dive into the world of Worlds:
THUMP on 1: Porter Robinson Wants People To Like His Music
Porter Robinson Announces "Sad Machine," the Next Single From 'Worlds'
Porter Robinson Changes It Up With His New Single "Sea Of Voices"
Porter Robinson 'Worlds' Box Set + Remix EP = Happy Machine
- thump blog