Louder ≠ Better
The first time I saw Bassnectar live was about six or seven years ago in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sharing a stage with Sub Swara. Between the seizure lights and gut-bending distortion that rev in my memory, Bassnectar — aka Lorin Ashton from Santa Cruz — was a monster Electronic contender and multi-genre everything-sampler way before Skrillex made it all popular. Bassnectar had, in fact, been doing it since the 90s, rising into warehouse fame in multiple cities before the internet told us where to go. To wide-eyed me, he was grit, incomprehensible beats, and glow-in-the-dark graffiti embodied.
There is something different, however, about listening to Bassnectar’s ninth album Vava Voom. For one, I’m sitting at a computer. Secondly, I am sober. But most importantly, as this harsh club album rages on, I have to admit that the time to be totally freaking amazed by Vava Voom has passed.
Of course, Bassnectar’s tradition of speeding and slowing tempos, schizophrenically mutating beats mid-track, and sampling just about everything available (including Pennywise and the clacking of ping pong balls) will excite anyone. Plus, the relentless wall-of-sound distortion will keep you awake, even on the one or two cinematic ambient tracks like “Butterfly” — which belongs in the canon of Little Dragon. Some edits, like “What” and “Ugly” are tight triumphs in horror movie Dubstep, 8bit creepiness, and amen breaks — and those drops will have you bobbing your head where you sit.
So, if you’re in need breakbeat payoffs, some fun choppy wub wubs, and a sick Lupe Fiasco appearance on the title track, you’re in luck. And perhaps, that’s all you need in a Bassnectar album.
But — and maybe it’s just my nostalgia talking — I was hoping for more. I wanted my face melted from the decades of innovation, from kids all over the world upping the bar, from Dubstep hitting the mainstream and playing in every local drug store, and from Bassnectar watching the whole thing unfold.
But Vava Voom doesn’t seem groundbreaking enough for a full-length. Between the deliberately earsplitting production, the too-obvious-yet-somehow-gimmicky genre-crossings of Electronic and Hip-Hop, Dubstep and D&B, (and can we be done with chiptunes? Seriously?), not to mention the Look-At-Me samples — the whole thing seems a bit…forced. The album is grating and done before, not to mention as American and South London as apple pie and crumpets.