It's so rare these days that it's almost unheard of: an album that lands straight between the crosshairs of your expectations. Getting what you think you're going to get feels, after all, a little boring. It's become the norm, therefore, in the last few years for artists to attempt to confound their audience, where before they were more than content to focus iterative changes that would take their fans with them. Now? Anything goes.
Porter Robinson is one of the young producers at the forefront of America's EDM scene, one generally looked down upon by European DJs as something which essentially lacks charisma or a willingness to innovate. Perhaps stung by this, his response was to tell anyone who would listen that 'Worlds' wouldn't be a party album, but instead would have a pedigree demonstrating it was crafted by someone who wasn't simply box-ticking their way to success. It's fair to say though, that still not everyone was holding their breath in anticipation.
A bold mindset then but, given EDM's current grip on the psyche of US teenagers and his pre-eminence amongst its cadre along with Skillrex and Deadmau5, 'Worlds' was never going to be an album indebted to the avant garde. Robinson sets out his stall early, opener 'Divinity' full of pounding beats and naggingly insistent loops, a package neatly given a very human touch via the angelic vocals of Broken Social Scene's Amy Millan. As if to underline that this isn't the vibe to drain a keg to at a frat party, 'Tears of War' centres lyrically around an intractable conflict: "200 years of war/We'll fight 'til we are no more". Although, despite this mythical energy, Robinson places it in very much an appealing synth-pop framework.
With our star perhaps feeling a little playful, 'Flicker' employs a maddening snippet of Japanese for a sample and a plethora of bright, steepling hooks, whilst 'Fresh Static Snow' is either purposefully or not something of an homage to Daft Punk's 'Homework', an album which re-invented dance music when he was at the tender age of five. The real payload for tech-heads is, however, on 'Sad Machine', on which Robinson, over the sound of keening bells, duets with a Vocaloid - essentially software which creates a human singing voice from text - in what's arguably the trainspotter's equivalent of a blind date. Like much of 'Worlds', it sounds a lot less weird than you might think.
Probably the biggest triumph here is that at only very few points does any of this sound like experimentation for experimentation's sake, so when the one de facto banger arrives in 'Lionhearted', it sounds more than a little out of sync. Robinson then flirts a little with a similar concept on both 'Fellow Feeling' and 'Goodbye To A World', but as each slow-burns and then respectively explodes, the climaxes lack much by way of nuance; good ideas which are eventually reduced to going through the motions.
'Worlds' proves that it's creator may still be young, but he knows that having a need to fulfil your inner nerd and re-tuning the wavelengths of your fans is a trick which requires balance and subtlety. It's a record that's different, but not so off course that it threatens to sink Porter Robinson in anything more than continued limelight. Just like we thought it would.
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