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Album Review: Bassnectar – Divergent Spectrum

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Bassnectar has become a fearsome presence these past few years. He’s appeared at almost every festival we’ve had the pleasure of covering in recent years, and we’ve managed to become quite familiar with, and quite fond of, the beat-savvy, real-life equivalent of Cousin Itt. What we like most about Bassnectar (aka Lorin Ashton) is his ability to transcend genres. It would be neither fair nor accurate to call him dubstep, as he delves into all facets of electronic music, and it wouldn’t be fair to call him electronic either, because he drops dubstep beats with the absolute best of them.

Only in recent years has Ashton been receiving considerable media limelight, and it’s by and large due to his nonstop touring and tireless experimentation (eight LPs and four EPs since 2001), which is responsible for the creative know-how that bolsters his live shows today.

His most recent LP, Divergent Spectrum, is quite good for all intents and purposes. It sticks loosely to the basic formula for a dubstep album: one killer track, a couple good tracks, and then a bunch of filler. I say loosely quite intentionally, as it is a cut above your average throwaway dubstep album. The obvious anchor track for the album is the straight-up barn burner “Upside Down”, but there are several others that hit just as hard and with just as much musical integrity. “Red Step” (feat. Jantsen) and “Paging Stereophonic” are both tracks that are heavier than “Upside Down” and easily as addictive. Other notable tracks that keep the album interesting in a less dubstep-y way are the borderline IDM “Parade into Centuries”, the hip-hop-based “The Matrix”, and the spacey down-tempo lounge track “Afterthought”.

Also an obligatory addition to most dubstep albums is a remix or two. On Divergent Spectrum, they come in the unlikely form of Gogol Bordello’s “Immigraniada” and in the more likely form of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”. Speaking as a non-fan of the aforementioned acclaimed gypsy punk outfit, Bassnectar’s remix of “Immigraniada” is superb. Using the verses essentially as is, Bassnectar takes to Eugene Hütz’s potent chorus vocals and tweaks them perfectly to act as the stellar dubstep drop every time the chorus hits. His remix of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” is not quite so stunning, but it’s always fun to hear a track that you’re somewhat familiar with within the hodgepodge of bleeps and blips that comprise an album like this one.

As previously mentioned, there is a substantial bit of filler on the album. Tracks like “Boomerang” and “Above and Beyond” are straight white noise. In Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, protagonist Rob Fleming, hot off a bad breakup, requests that they just put some music on in his record shop that he doesn’t have to think about–some music he can “just ignore.” The filler tracks on Divergent Spectrum are exactly that. You might forget you’re even listening to music while these tracks are going on.

That said, the ratio of filler to filthy (to use a term so adamantly adopted by the dubstep community) is largely in favor of filthy. As far as complete works go for Lorin Ashton, Divergent Spectrum is among his best, which bodes well for his future on the festival circuit. This album is fraught with tracks that are going to crawl into your ears and make their home there for quite a while. But at the end of the day, a bunch of grimy dubstep is, well, a bunch of grimy dubstep. Obviously, some bunches are better than others, but they’re all quite similar in nature: those few standout tracks (and by standout we mean this), a few listenable tracks, and then the filler. This album nearly breaks free from the formulaic, but in the end, it stays rather sadly true to form.

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