The electronic dance music prestidigitator known as Skrillex metaphorically points his iMac at music critics' heads and demands that they surrender their album-review lexicon. That's because only hyperbolic swishes and swooshes of syntax have a chance of articulating what his electronically conjured cacophony sounds like. Back in 2012, for instance, I characterized Skrillex's Bangarang as a "volcanic kaleidoscope of synthetic blips and beeps." And Rolling Stone reviewer Christopher R. Weingarten recently described those kinds of sounds as "less like songs and more like a Transformer eating Voltron."
There's still plenty of speaker-shredding mayhem 'n' madness on the latest from the man of the EDM moment whose real name is Sonny Moore. Bass bombs detonate with club-shaking potency on Recess, Skrillex's first official full-length album. (Bangarang was his fourth EP). But scattered among all that digital ordinance is also some surprising stuff from mostly underground-level guest contributors. Stabbing dubstep beats now make way for rap and R&B flourishes—and occasionally something shockingly close to pop amid all those bits and bytes wormholing at warp speed through Skrillex's sonic supercollider.
And among those speeding bullets are more than a few f-bombs too.
One way Recess moves in a more mainstream direction is that nearly all of its 11 songs have a more traditional lyrical structure. Alas, there's very little uplifting content hanging from it. On "Dirty Vibe," guest G-Dragon does reject the use of MDMA, a drug commonly linked to the dance scene. He calls it out by its street name, Molly (the powder form of Ecstasy), rapping, "I don't pop Molly, I rock microphones."
Five of the 11 songs contain f-words. The Ragga Twins use one fully voiced f-word and pair it with "mother" four times without quite fully pronouncing that foul combo on "All Is Fair in Love and Brostep." "Coast Is Clear" uses the obscenity in a sexual context—eight times clearly and at least 20 more with the word obscured in some way. Those tallies, however, are nothing compared to what crops up on "F‑‑‑ That," where the titular phrase serves as pretty much the only lyrics. It's repeated (in a somewhat distorted way) somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 times in just under four minutes—putting it in Wolf of Wall Street territory and producing the most furious fusillade of f-words I've ever heard in a single song. Similarly soul-numbing is "Try It Out," which repeats the phrase "bulls‑‑‑ I can't lose" (or slight variants of it) close to 50 times. Elsewhere, we hear one or two uses each of "b‑‑ches," "a‑‑" and "a‑‑hole," as well as two verbal references to giving someone the finger.
Song themes primarily revolve around reveling in EDM at clubs. One exception is "Stranger," as Sam Drew painfully suggests that the flames of hell would be preferable to the pain he's facing following a devastating breakup ("And now there is no pain, there's everything to gain here/Now that I'm lost I think I'll stay/In hell, there's comfort in these flames, and I don't feel the pain/In hell, I'll forget your name, you'll become a stranger").
In a recent cover story interview with Rolling Stone, Skrillex said he just wants to make music that makes people feel good. "Young kids really identify with my songs, s‑‑‑ that older people—danceheads or purists—are like, 'This isn't dance music.' My friends send me videos of their kids dancing to my songs, and that's what I go back to when I make records: youth. That time when you still feel like being Superman, or going to space and being an astronaut. You need that as an adult sometimes."
I understand what Sonny Moore is talking about here, a certain innocent feeling, a soul-tingling charge from the way certain sounds mingle. And make no mistake, this is a dude who knows a lot about alchemically blending aural elements in adrenalized, hypnotically astounding ways. I get that appeal, and if it were just about the sounds of his music, I could stop writing right now.
But it's rarely just about the sounds.
Compared to Bangarang, there are a lot more words on Recess … and a lot of them are not the kinds of words you want your kids jumping around to and singing, you know, like, "F‑‑‑ that, f‑‑‑ that, f‑‑‑ that, f‑‑‑ that"—more than a 100 times in a row.
Elsewhere in the interview, Skrillex suggested that such obscene lyrics shouldn't be taken too seriously. "Dance music is fun," he said. "It's not something to raise an eyebrow at. Stop taking yourself so seriously."
Um. Well. My eyebrow is still up.