Monday, April 2, 2012
Album Review - Rusko: Songs
With dubstep seemingly poised to take over the world, Rusko, one of the genre's mercurial producers, seemed to be on the cusp of being one of its brightest stars. With the fiasco of M.I.A.'s third album Maya (on which he produced many tracks), and the rise of Skrillex, Porter Robinson, and other producers, Rusko appeared to be pushed off onto the sidelines. Despite a very strong first album, 2010's OMG!, which found him working with Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors and others on a set of dubstep heavy tracks that showcased his rather in-your-face style, and frenetic live shows that highlight his unflappable energy, there was a noticeable lack of upward momentum coming into 2012. His second album Songs, which was already the root of a Twitter war between Rusko and label Mad Decent when the label began streaming the album without his approval, seems to be an attempt on Rusko's part to make a less "dubstep" style album, branching into different styles, most notably Jamaican reggae, and even putting together some of the most mainstream tracks he's ever produced. But as an album Songs feels less like a cohesive statement and more of a directionless collection of songs, jumping here and there, never staying in one genre for too long. It is a testament to Rusko's production skills, however, that what could have spelled complete disaster more often that not rightens itself at each moment of collapse.
For the man who was best known for aggressive tracks like the Guy Ritchie film Snatch sampling "Cockney Thug," almost seems toothless on these tracks that wind their way from jungle/rave to house to reggae to dubstep with no real element to link them all. It becomes dizzying attempting to keep up with the endless genre hopping. I can understand Rusko's want to stand out a little more from his dubstep peers, but his attempts at adding reggae textures to his music come across flat rather than energetic. "Skanker" is rather by the books reggae with some dubstep wubz, which are not enough to save the track from tedium.
The record has several tracks in a row in this vein that tends to bring the record to a screeching halt. "Skanker" is followed by the reggae-lite of "Love No More" which again thinks that added a some bass wobbles will elevate the track to something other that generic.
Likewise "Be Free," "Roll Da Beats," and "Mek More Green" stand out like sore thumbs on the album amid all the house/jungle/dubstep tracks. "Roll Da Beats" is the only one that leaves an impression, it's mix of jungle/dubstep/reggae actually being refreshing rather than off-putting.
When Rusko sticks to his bread and butter, that is when the album shines. "Asda Car Park" features his signature hardcore bass wobbles and 8-bit sound textures.
"Opium" even somewhat steals from "Cockney Thug," with stop start drums and clipped samples, moving the track from trance house, dubstep, and some jungle breaks.
The rest of the tracks on Songs are probably the most commercial sounding songs of Rusko's career, owing more to house music than to dubstep. While they are relatively fun and club ready, they tend to lack any identifiable "Rusko" sound. "Thunder" could be any track from David Guetta, Steve Aoki, or Avicii.
"Pressure" is fairly standard jungle/rave fare, with some added funk bass that elevates slightly above the tried and true.
Rusko also ventures into Rihanna/Nicki Minaj territory, looking for a Top-40 hit with "Dirty Sexy," however, the use of a vocalist that sounds like Rihanna would appear to be pandering.
The one time on the record that I was actually taken aback was on the last track "M357" where there was no such attempt at trying for something, it was just a personal moment that stood out. It's a lovely downtempo number with glossy synths, twinkling piano, and ethereal vocals and has no pretense other than being a beautiful track.
Ultimately, Songs lacks distinctiveness as a Rusko record to be successful, with the lack of cohesion and direction derailing the record at key moments. Too often Songs comes across as a transitional record; Rusko searching for a way to translate his sound into something more mainstream. Unfortunately, the success rate of the tracks is way too low to take him to where he wants to be, which makes Songs a frustrating listen.
Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.
Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.
Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.
Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.
Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.
Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.
Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.