Skream SkreamOutside The Box
After the bomb that was his debut album, it looks like Skream has chosen to go with the flow and let time put everything in its place. Four years can seem a short time when we’re talking about rock or pop. There are artists who leave a gap of ten years between one work and the other and they hardly change their sound. But four years in dubstep is a lot (relativity and all that), more so if you take into account that those were the early days of the genre and that the effervescence of the beginning coincided with the whole internet thing, hastening in definitive cultural democratisation and the overflow of bedroom productions. But there has been a moment in those four years that clearly marked the destiny of this second album. It was the blessed instant when Skream made the remix of “In For The Kill”. The different genre versions of mainstream hits usually are redundant or even spoil the original songs (with some exceptions, of course). However Jones got everybody talking about him, inside and outside the world of sub-bass. He “de-alternativised” the genre in a way that was totally natural and delivered it, not to the masses but to a wider audience. And he saw the light: that was the way to go on his second album, cross boundaries and position himself outside the box. Now the title doesn’t appear so subtle.
The order of the tracks is one of the great features of “Outside The Box”, taking you with it as if you were a kite, letting go of the anchoring cord so you can fly high, then tightening their grip and drawing you closer to them. It’s a back and forth that has much to do with the constant changes of style, the intrusion of female voices and one or another tension rise in the form of bass lines and cold seat. Finding pieces of future beats –like “8 Bit Baby”–, jungle revival –check “Listenin’ To The Records On My Wall” or “The Epic Last Song” which, as its title indicates, could serve as the closing song of a night at the club, a bar, a rave or a funeral– or crude, old school dubstep (old school being four years ago, the era of his first album, again, relativity and all that), is not surprising if you take into account that Skream has got a huge personal archive of tracks. What is surprising is that all of them work so well. From the very rough and sparse “Wibbler” to the ambiental “Reflections”, which has more of 90’s emotronics than of dubstep. Another sure-fire hit are the female vocals on the record. If the remix of “In For The Kill” already pointed at the success of the La Roux vs. Skream tandem, “Finally” confirms it with conviction. The redhead’s voice is its weight worth in gold and seems to inspire Jones, for here we have one of the gems of the album. “How Real” and its combination of vocal pop with 2step show the lovable side of the producer, while “I Love The Way” convincingly plays with easy phrasing and catchy grooves. The rest of the tunes could seem filler or transitions at first, but to take them off the tracklist would leave the album crooked, disjointed. And that is something that requires a couple of more listening sessions, as it’s not an easy record. It’s an album that requires an internal fight with your attention deficit, be warned.
In these four years Oliver Jones has been hyperactive when it comes to remixes and EPs, but there have also been episodes of zero creativity. He’s had time to let the scene grow, expand, cross the Atlantic, develop into other things; so that us slower students could discover it, exploit it at its time, ignore it and recover it again. “Outside The Box” will always be the second album of the Londoner, it will be the sequel to “Skream!”, in theory. But so many things have happened between one record and the other that it wouldn’t be right to compare the two. Even though Jones is still living in Croydon, is still hanging out with Benga, his brother Hijak and the people of the old Big Apple Records. Even though he is still producing from his room at his parents’ house and for many (me included) “Skream!” wasn’t an important record but more like a memorable event in their lives, the people evolve according to their habitat, and habitats are dynamic. The first thing and the last showing on this record is that evolution; not only that of the producer, but that of a scene of which he is a cornerstone, a godfather, a visionary.
Skream - Where You Should be (feat. Sam Frank)
Skream - 8 Bit Baby (feat. Murs)