Dubstep is at the fork in the road that every genre eventually reaches: the point where artists either attempt to crossover, or forgo mainstream success and go further underground. Like Rusko before him, dubstep pioneer Skream has opted for the former with his latest album, Outside the Box (dropping in early August). Unfortunately, a number of half-measures finds Skream uneasily positioned between the two paths.
Outside the Box features many of Skream’s trademarks: stuttering two-step beats, sparse compositions, and robust bass. It suffers, however, by not putting its best foot forward. After the echo-filled atmospherics of “Perforated,” the album slips into the lame chiptune of “8-bit” (unaided by the milquetoast rapping by Murs) and then “CPU,” which highlights the regrettable vocoded lyric “I am your computer” ad nauseum.
The album picks up from there, with some strong vocal-led tracks (the diva R&B of “I Love the Way” being the strongest) and “Fields of Emotion,” the song most reminiscent of Skream’s breakthrough hit “Midnight Request Line.” Lead single “Listenin’ To the Records On My Wall” is all rave nostalgia, the titular records some combination of jungle and drum & bass. The video for “Listenin’…” is an ambitious take on creation, a theme that fits the nature of the song.
“Wibbler” attacks like old-school Skream with its unrelenting, headbanging wobble; it’s the lone aggro track on the record. The rest of Outside the Box combines warm synths and relatively straight-forward beats. “The Epic Last Song” tries to live up to its grandiose title with a jungle backbeat and colliding synthlines.
Skream teams up with La Roux on “Finally,” but can’t quite capture the magic of his “In for the Kill” remix; the build to the chorus relies too much on the thin voice of La Roux’s Eleanor Jackson. The track will probably be the album’s second single, which speaks to the overall quality of the album as a crossover attempt.
In crafting dubstep palatable to a mainstream audience, Skream removes too many of its hard edges. The mellow tracks aren’t minimal, they’re just boring. The problem is reinforced by the weakness of the album openers. Despite a few highlights, not living up to the high standards he has set makes the album a disappointment. Contrary to the title, Skream doesn’t move Outside the Box, he just chips away until there isn’t much left of it.
THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS.