Release Date: Nov 8, 2011
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
The Vision, the latest from bass music sensation Joker, strikes a wondrous balance of doom and poppiness. Dramatic and beautiful, the record seems a document of a tumultuous time; cries in the night, deadly serious. Take “Slaughter House,” an overwhelming dystopian vision of electro-pop glory until it’s incinerated by the masterfully generated synthesizers’ U.F.O.
Since 2008, Liam McLean’s name has been floated by U.K. scenesters eager to predict bass music’s next breakout star. Like London’s SBTRKT and a couple of his fellow Bristolites, the colorfully named Gemmy and Guido, McLean specializes in a new brand of dubstep that’s more melodic and a lot more danceable (be honest, Burial is cool as fuck, but a hundred think pieces on hipster dance revisionism later and you’d still be hard pressed to convince your average club-goer to stay on the floor for more than 20 seconds of “Archangel”).
So exhilarating was Joker's early output, he was able to get away with calling it not dubstep but "purple"; a name with the unintended consequence of making you think either of chocolate-box poetry or brutally potent marijuana. Now with his first "artist" album, the Bristolian has continued to venture beyond the bounds of genre; synthesising West Coast funk and soul with his own west country bass stylings. While Joker's taste seems to be as well-tooled as his way with a hook (Teddy Riley, Timbaland and Derrick May are all referenced here), he never uses his allusions to great effect.
In 2011, it has become easy to refer to nearly all forms of popular electronic music as dubstep, but as with any subculture that’s hardly the case. Dubstep began fracturing almost as soon as Burial brought the term to mainstream attention, especially as it gained traction in the U.S. and vacated most of its previous connections to dub reggae and two-step in favour of, well, wobbles.
After a dozen-plus 12” singles and EPs on revered underground dance labels like Tectonic and Hyperdub, and the Joker-centric Kapsize, Liam McLean lands on 4AD, where he seizes the full-length format. Prior to The Vision, McLean amassed a body of bloody-minded output that toggled between immense and ominous, from modern electronic funk (“Purple City,” recorded with fellow Bristolian Ginz) to sparse and booming hip-hop (“Snake Eater”). His best moment was 2009’s “Psychedelic Runway,” a widescreen combination of prowling beats, lancing synthesizers, and numerous horror-theme elements seemingly constructed for the purpose of devouring any pop radio playlist.
Joker's long-awaited debut album begins with a two minute synth exercise that sounds suspiciously like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" before descending into one of the most melodramatic dubstep vocal tracks since Nero's "Guilt. " Hair metal calibre vocals sing, "Here come the knives! Watch as they gleam!" Well, alright then. The Vision is loaded with vocal tracks that vary from average to awful, and it's unfortunate: They're unnecessary flirtations with dance-pop that end up smothering Joker's production genius, a recurring theme on a sometimes frustrating debut album.
Joker’s debut album practically lumbers onto your MP3 player such is the weight of subtext surrounding it. As one of dubstep’s leading lights, this Bristolian producer turned many a head with his crispy bass music and fondness for 8-bit video game soundtracks. His early releases on Hyperdub and several other vanguard dance labels even saw him anointed '2009 king of bass music' by XLR8R Magazine.
Not long after Bristol producer/DJ Joker emerged on the scene and started blowing minds with his melodic hip-hop-influenced take on dubstep, the genre was suddenly highjacked by the massive North American success of Rusko and former emo screamer Skrillex. Overnight, to the dismay of purists, the stark minimalism and experimental attitude of the UK scene were replaced by testosterone-fuelled buzz-saw bass lines and aggressive maximalism. Given the circumstances, should we be that surprised that Joker's debut full-length finds the musician setting his sights on mainstream crossover? Unlike many of his peers, he resists the temptation of the frat-boy-friendly brostep route to concentrate on bringing R&B, hip-hop and grime tendencies to the foreground.
Review Summary: When a leader forgets how to lead and chooses simply to follow insteadHow quickly Joker’s obvious intentions are revealed as his debut LP The Vision rolls out of the gate under a hard-nosed banner of crunchy basslines and rolling synths is surprising for a variety of reasons. Joker’s always held a place in the hearts of like-minded dubstep fans across the world, nonplussed by the events unfolding at a breakneck pace within the current American scene but still determined to have their pulses racing under the bass weight of the sub woofer culture. He crafted (note the past tense) weekend delights under the humbling pretense of intelligence, deftly splicing in the glitchy and broken rhythms of Flylo with the synthesized r&b of Timbaland and deftly hid it under the guise of bass music.
Shortly after Joker dropped the memorable “Purple City” split seven-inch with Ginz in 2009, the Guardian proclaimed the then 23-year-old London producer the “next big thing in UK dance music.” It was understandable despite his sparse catalog of releases. After all, a lot of us momentarily lost our shit over the split’s massive bass and distorted Ennio Morricone synth melodies. Joker told The Guardian then that he was interested in making music for headphones and “people who don’t have decks,“ calling it “purple.” Since then Joker’s stock has continued to rise off only a few, officially released cuts.
It can be unfortunate to determine what is or isn’t “regression,” or even “progression,” musically. It’s an easy way to presume to have tapped into the musician’s methodology, inspiration, and thus streamline our mode of valuation. Regardless, many will deem Joker’s The Vision a regression, and it will stick. Well-prior to the release of his first full-length, Joker claimed he would make it “completely more fucked up than you’ve ever heard from me before,” and his title-onwards hubris will have us listening as intently and scoffing as pronouncedly as we’re sure to do.
Pop music amplifies and lionizes its creators by default, while empathy comes from the capital-M music and the community. This has remained true as the music industry has changed and it has remained true as DJs-- Daft Punk, David Guetta, Deadmau5-- have risen to pop-culture prominence. It's why so much of the coverage of an artist like Robyn focuses on her smallness and approachability; it is not the norm.
Glitchy, dubstep-infused R&B is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking in 2011. With English prodigy James Blake, dubstep R&B made a definitive entrance into the US this year, complete with an endless wave of hype and anticipation. Indie blogs ate it up feverishly, promoting the movement at seemingly every opportunity that they were afforded. Such a quick rise and popularity for dubstep elicited an inevitable backlash, inducing mockery throughout the Internet for its legitimacy as music and scorn for the raves that host these DJs.
A debut with mainstream potential from the young Bristol dubstep/grime producer. Melissa Bradshaw 2011 In 2007 Joker, a young producer from Bristol, burst onto the grime and dubstep scenes with an utterly idiosyncratic take on UK underground music. With their unforgettable hooks and vast, rambunctious synth lines, his tracks bridged the epic and the comic, the menacing and the ridiculous.