Monday, 18 February 2013

Modestep - Evolution Theory


After four years of being bombarded by an overkill of syncopated rhythms and screaming, churning and ear-bashing LFO basslines that make up the bulk of the dubstep scene and culture, the world has seemed to move on to bigger (and not necessarily better. See trap music) things. What we’re left with now are pop icons incorporating dubstep into their already bland and manufactured repertoires, and keyboard warriors arguing on the internet whether or not Skrillex 'tries too hard to be Burial on his new EP'. And while dubstep is slowly getting pushed out of the clubs and concert venues, the genre still draws a lot of attention at the bigger festivals around the globe, destroying eardrums left and right with an increasingly more dramatic approach to the tried and tested formula of intro/build-up/drop/build-up/drop/outro. Dubstep DJ sets are fast becoming a rare sight to see, with more Djs making the transition to full-on over-the-top live experiences and live bands. Especially now that drum and bass Legends Pendulum called it quits in favour of their side project Knife Party, leaving a gaping hole in the festival circuit. 

But fret not, for a rightful replacement has been doing the rounds for a few years now, and that replacement comes in the form of Modestep, a four piece live bass music band from (of course) London who have been bringing their wild live show to stages around the globe. And now, after a little over three years of releasing a few tracks and playing over 200 live shows they finally release an album. The future is here, and its name is Evolution Theory

I’ve been following Modestep for quite some time now, and when I heard that they were finally going to release their debut album I was afraid that they would be unable to capture the essence of their live show. And now that I’m listening to it I can happily say that my fears were largely unfounded. The album opens with the anthem-like “Show Me A Sign”, a Nero-esque track full of uplifting synth leads and lyrics that are just begging to be played before a live audience consisting of several thousands of bassheads (I actually attended the concert where this track saw its live debut). The band doesn’t even sound like they were in the studio when they recorded this, with lead singer Josh happily chanting: “Someone raise a lighter/light up the sky above,” to an invisible audience. Good stuff.  “Another Day” is their newest single. Even though it’s not the best the album has to offer, it does a terrific job at keeping the energy at a highpoint. My favourite track on the album arrives in the form of the third, and title, track “Evolution Theory” featuring grime powerhouses D-Power, Jammin, Jammer & Frisco who each take a verse and a different subgenre of UK bass music in a fantastic track that keeps building and building until it reaches a satisfying climax. 

Next up is the well-known, but grossly underwhelming compared to the other tracks on the album, “Sunlight”. Even though it’s a nice track it doesn’t stand the test of time very well (even though it’s just a little over two years old at the time of writing) and just sounds dated compared to the computerised wizardry on the album. “Praying for Silence” is an incredibly over-the-top and dramatic track full of hype moments reminiscent of some of the older stuff by Nero, sprinkled with some Pendulum. “Freedom” is a bass heavy electro rock track with an attitude that exchanges lyrics with more bass and beats, kicking the album into fifth gear before slowing things down for the beautiful ballad “Time”.

And that’s what I like about Modestep, they have the ability to create the so-called ‘bangers’ like it’s nothing, but it’s when the band take it down a notch that their music really shines and shows what they can do. Remove the wobbles and the brutal kick/snare patterns and what you’re left with is a band that is incredibly musical. Josh’s voice is so beautiful that you somehow forget that he can’t write a decent lyric to save his life. Normally that fact could lead me to hate an artist, but in the case of Modestep, the lyrics are anything but important because they serve only as dressing on the musical salad that is Evolution Theory. “Burn” sounds like a Doctor P track on crack, and “To the Stars” comes at exactly the right time. “Leave My Mind” features a melody that sounds like they nicked it straight from the mind of DnB master Sub Focus. “Take It All” has a great vocal melody and harmony that knows when it has to slow down so the almighty drop kicks in just that much harder. Great stuff. “Feel Good”, track 12 on the 17 track album, is probably their most well-known track in that it was their first music video and it got given a lot of promo on UKF back when UKF wasn’t a place where morons gather to freely discuss with each other the depth of their ignorance (while I have your attention: fuck you for catering to the lowest common denominator just because you wanted to become more popular). It still hasn’t lost any of its soulfulness, which is good. “Bite the Hand” gives Josh a place in the spotlight to sing his heart out, to some success. Makes you wonder why he can’t exhibit the same talent for lyricism on the rest of the album. “Up” is a very underwhelming track that blends the blandness of Dirty Dutch build-ups with a bassline that, although sonically interesting, fails to hit its target thanks to it sounding out of place.  This trend is continued on “Saved the World” which sounds way too poppy compared to the other tracks and seems to full-on rip off Nero in terms of sound. Thankfully the poppy edge is gone, for the most part, on “Flying High” and plunges us right back into the heavy bass and wub wubs (yes, I went there). The album ends on a high note with “Slow Hand”, a soulful yet heavy track with sing-a-long lyrics and an uplifting melody.

The first album by the London lads is a dream. They built a lot of momentum with their past successes and it seems like they show no sign of stopping yet. The only problem that remains is that they sometimes sound like they don’t really know where they want to go with their sound. Let’s hope they keep to the soulful stuff and stay away from the poppy tracks. It sounds a little too forced if you ask me, and the only force I want from Modestep is the one their music generates through my speakers.
~Chris

8.4

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