Usually when you’re good at something, even just remotely good, you stick with it. Unless you’re Porter Robinson, that is. Even before being legally allowed to use free drink tickets, Robinson’s achievements as producer/DJ career included topping and crashing Beatport’s website due to the excessive downloads of his first EP, the bassface-loaded Spitfire, as well as opening for super DJs such as Tiësto, Skrillex, and others. Now, at the peak of his music career, Robinson has come to agree with what so many music critics have said about the soullessness of the dubstep genre: “EDM [referring to American dubstep/main stage EDM] is entertainment, not art,” he scathingly informed NME. On his debut LP Worlds, Robinson practices what he preaches by saying goodbye to dubstep, finally enabling himself to create a genuine, personal work that reaches far beyond his former “1,2,3 DROP” life.
In almost every interview that Robinson has given for Worlds, the EDM poster child cites the cheesy Japanese interpretations of Eurodance on Dance Dance Revolution and other video game soundtracks as his introduction to electronic music. While the album is far from being classified as chip-tune, the influence from Robinson’s time spent playing MMORPGs and Sega Genesis is definitely apparent. On the sugary, electro-pop single “Sad Machine,” the starry, synth-driven chord progressions and underlying spacey melodies serve as an accompaniment to Robinson’s duo with a Japanese-toned vocoder, tugging at your nostalgic heartstrings of piloting spaceships with an Atari Joystick through pixelated asteroid landscapes. Other SNES throwback moments include the opening track “Divinity,” which sandwiches the airy chorus by Stars’ Amy Millan with spiralling loops that sample the robotic sound effects during Mario’s consistent deaths in Donkey Kong, as well as leading synth melodies with 8-bit edges. And let’s not forget the perma-happy “Flicker,” with liquified guitar riffs that support the Japanese software’s voice as it repeats over and over the phrase “Watashi wa choudo nani ga juuyou ka mitsukeyou toshite iru,” or “I’m just trying to find what’s important.” Deep? Maybe. Japanese Video game-esque? Definitely.
Although the 8-bit influences pervade the entire album, on the latter half, Robinson finds himself playing less with his comfort zone of video games and experimenting more with the different boundaries that EDM can encompass. The album’s quasi-interlude “Natural Light” incorporates ethereally haunting vocals and a depressive glockenspiel melody over heavy bass thumps, creating an impressive ambient track that could definitely have gone on for longer. Similarly, “Fellow Feeling” demonstrates Robinson’s previously unheard versatility. The track begins with a bittersweet violin solo that leads up to a cyberpunk-breakdown saturated with glitchy, fear-inducing distortion, dissolving into an airy female vocal monologue analogous to M83’s “Reunion” or “Echoes of Mine,” possibly an unintentional effect of remixing the latter song. Just as the incredulity of the track reaches its ceiling, Robinson brings the song’s various styles back in with a bass-thumping continuation of glitchiness underneath a rougher reprise of the violin melody, a demonstration of how the young artist evolved from the style he was producing and DJing consistently just a year ago.
Although Robinson claimed in his “Thump On 1” interview on Vice’s Thump Channel that Worlds would be a very “un-EDM,” the similarities to his previous works are at times apparent. “Years of War” and “Lionhearted” both rely on grandiose verses that transition in manners vaguely similar to that of the “Build-Build-Drop” pattern heard throughout the Main Stage EDM genre. These tracks, as well as others, additionally invoke a youthful, nostalgic feeling of invincibility; a break from the YOLO mantra of his original fans, but not all that far off. Nonetheless, the difference is there; when comparing the original “Lionhearted” to its remixed version by Arty, Robinson’s divergence is definitely there. Whereas the latter caters to the stadium audience—massive and grandiose stylistically with little care for the personal, in-your-own-head aspect—the former, as large as it may get, manages to maintain a personal connection with this listener, its ideal mode of transmission being your headphones that block you off from the world.
Closing the album is “Goodbye To A World,” a reference that’s pretty easy to catch. The depressive, electronic lullaby sampling Zelda-esque melodies keeps the sugariness consistent, letting Porter Robinson give what he considers his official adieu to main stage EDM. At the close of the track, the Japanese vocoder’s farewell is cut short by a glitch. In a sense, that’s what Robinson is to American dubstep: an artist that was doing it all right, but was somehow haywire at the end. Like most errors, maybe this transition was bound to happen eventually, whether by Robinson or by one of the many other producers or DJs involved in the dubstep scene. But as of now, at least Robinson actually did it.