July 26, 2010

skream_.jpg

Sach O will knock you out the box like skelly.

Skream makes a lot of tunes. His weekly radio show with partner-in-crime Benga on pirate station Rinse FM isn’t just the place to hear the latest dubstep; it’s a clearinghouse and testing ground for the duo’s latest creations. Blink and you’ll miss them: most of the tracks they play only see the light of day months later, if ever. Cannily, Skream’s recent Freeizm series has helped clear up his bottleneck of tracks awaiting official release, but it’s also served as a peace offering of sorts for people who’d otherwise dismiss his sophomore album “Outside the Box” as a sell-out move. It’s hard for DJs to complain about the man’s move towards pop when he just gave away nearly 20 hardcore tracks for free and a quick scan of Dubstepforum’s front-page reveals a surplus of good will towards the man, a rarity in a community that prizes underground credibility above all else.

With that in mind, it’s best to take “Outside the Box” as what it is: a post-Dubstep electronic pop album meant to expand Skream’s fanbase beyond the hardcore faithful. Skream doesn’t go outside the boxes so much as he checks them off: you’ve got your jungle tunes, your 2-step, your vocal pop, your synth-funk, your deep dubstep, your tear-out, etc. For the most part he succeeds, the only sour note being the anemic “8 Bit Baby” which suffers from a boring beat and worse verse from Murs.

Otherwise, “Outside the Box” is a great showcase for Skream’s adaptability behind the boards as he successfully twists different song-structure to his stylistic ticks. There’s just enough underground edge to pop tunes like “How Real” and “Finally” while the instrumental “Fields of Emotion” and “Reflections” are as dark and atmospheric as anything else out there these days. Compared to fellow Dubstep alumni Rusko who attempted a similarly diverse album earlier this year and strayed too far into electro territory, Skream’s pop turns here are admirably restrained, opening his sound up without reaching for David Guetta-level cheese. Even “The Epic Last Song” resists the urge to go into full on anthem territory, relying on junglist drums rather than cheap tricks to drive it forward.

It’s a delicate balancing act and one that’s representative of Dubstep as a whole in 2010: not quite fully mainstream but miles away from the near-empty underground clubs that birthed it and the cavernous sound that captivated early adopters. It remains to be seen if the album finds its audience: purists will quite possibly scoff, waxing lovingly about Mala’s “Return II Space” while pop fans may get turned off by metallic grind of “Wibbler” and the comparatively dark atmosphere. But that’s Dubstep’s secret in 2010: for every elitist and populist there seems to be five kids who like their music aggressive yet accessible, dark with touches of light, empty but percussive and underground but pop. “Outside the Box” is a victory for those kids and for a genre of music that’s gone far beyond the wildest expectations anyone had for it. Going on a decade since its humble roots, it’s getting harder and harder to keep this sound inside its box.

Download:
MP3: Skream ft. La Roux-“Finally” (Left-Click)
MP3: Robin S.-“Show Me Love (Skream Bootleg)”

ZIP: Skream-Freeizm 3 (Left-Click)