A Review Of Porter Robinson's 'Worlds,' Dance Music's Most Anticipated Album Of 2014
The long-awaited debut studio EP from North Carolina’s Porter Robinson, Worlds, has finally seen the light of day. Today is the album's official release date. Though no stranger to the vocal element, Robinson really culled the annals of the music world to find the perfect voices to complement his compositions. This isn’t the same “Say My Name” Porter Robinson you saw in 2012. This isn’t the same the same Porter Robinson that blew up with OWSLA’s release of Spitfire. This is the world of Porter Robinson as he imagines it now.
Opening Worlds in great form, "Divinity” welcomes with a toe-tapping, staccato synthesis that carries into a simple kick-drum. The build of the song does not tease the real treat of the track, which is precisely when he strips the opening element, the core of which gets tossed out entirely save for the chord progression that arises later, and highlights the opening vocals of Amy Millan. Millan, whose voice you may recognize from indie rock bands Broken Social Scene and Stars, lends her melodic vocals to Robinson’s synthesizer, but does not lose touch with the beauty that is expelled with every breath.
“Lionhearted,” another teased track single that was released prior to the album, seems like it’s straight out of an Australian dance club. It’s got that Cut Copy sound coming from Urban Cone’s Emil Gustafsson and Rasmus Flyckt; that means it’s a high pitched vocal that would be well suited under a disco ball, a rainy night, or merely a long cruise down a dark highway. It’s a steady song, one that can be easy to dance to, and also one that be sampled rigorously by the producers of .
“Sea of Voices” and “Fellow Feeling” flow like the confluence of a trickling creek into a flash flood. This is second time you hear Breanne Duren, though not credited in the track listing, because she helped write “Sea of Voices.” She lends her voice towards the end of the track, which is alright, if you’re not into her amazing melodies. But “Fellow Feeling” is a monster. It’s an obvious stab at the electro world, albeit an insane one that would leave nearly 56 different wounds should it ever be personified. You get lost in the drops, deliberately, as if Robinson wants you to misstep your dance move and focus on the construct of the entirety. It’s fresh, though, so he has that going for him.
“Sad Machine” is the first hint that Porter Robinson contains skills as a vocalist. Debuting his singing skills in a duet with a Vocaloid - he’s truly showing off at this point. Yes, he can sing. Sure, it’s probably got some minor auto-tune, but it’s safe to say that any naysayers will be disproved when he tours the Worlds album as Porter Robinson Live. “Sad Machine,” although beautiful in its Zelda-like elements of 8-bit glory, is certainly not the meat and potatoes of the album, but will certainly rest in the “time to take a breather” portion of any upcoming show.
Breanne Duren, the second featured vocalist on album, delivers a flowing lyrical element to a song that would have fit perfectly on Spitfire, minus the tinging keys, of course. “Years of War” was co-written by Duren in the Carrboro, North Carolina studio where Robinson recorded chunks of the album. The simple four-key song displays a stunning contradiction of beauty in light of battle. The grinding under belly of the song gets zapped in the final drop, signifying a monumental celebration.
“Flicker” also relies strongly on the Vocaloid, as well as what seems to be an obvious Daft Punk influence via Nile Rodgers’ skills on “Get Lucky.” However, that all gets thrown to the wind at the second core drop, which is simply a clap and bass distortion. The real treat is the Vocaloid-anime voice used as an instrument in the cut-sampling that occurs later in the track. It’s not Robinson at his finest, but it does present a wild contrast of sound in one song.
Next on the album are “Fresh Static Snow” and “Polygon Dust,” the latter of which features his Astralwerks label mates Lemaitre. These two songs follow each other presumably because they were born in the same thought stream, and although they differ in sounds utilized (Vocaloid vs. human) they still play together nicely in consecutive order.
Imaginary Cities’ feature on “Hear the Bells” jumps way out of bounds of the norm, which is a good thing. Robinson may have developed this track for the radio – resounding organ notes dance in and out of the vocals right before ending at “You won’t hear it on the radio.” Hmm. Is that a joke? This is about as primed for radio as any Calvin Harris feature with any pop star. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s an obvious jump from the EDM roots that we all presumed Robinson to have, given his track record of mainstage appearances.
“Natural Light” shows Robinson playing with different instruments, but the song itself is more of a lost instrumental in an underground world of a yet-to-be-made video game. The chiming xylophone is simple, but the drums, siren, and random vocal sample steer this away from the general mood. However, the album is titled Worlds, and if this is somewhere Porter Robinson gets lost in, then we can get lost with him.
Closing the album is “Goodbye to a World,” which brings it all full circle to the epic Porter Robinson we all fell in love with in 2010. It’s a jumping beat that uses very little Vocaloid but keeps you moving in the build. It’s almost like Worlds is an aural video game, and the 57-minute mark is when you have reached the princess at the castle. Well, Porter Robinson, the princess is in this castle, and you once again have blown away your listeners with new music, a fresh tone, and a delightful album. Storytelling is lost in this world of singles and mixtapes, and Robinson manages to finagle his way into the pantheon of those who maintain that the album is still a relevant medium for a story.
Cover photo credit: NPR