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. The blame for this backlash lies solely on some of the “artists” who attempted to capitalize on the movement, resulting in a flood of the genre that watered down its artistic integrity and place in music. Whether it is a movement that is here to stay or simply a passing trend is, as of yet, to be decided.
Grime dubstep producer Liam McClean, aka Joker, whose hype has steadily increased over the past year or so, finally released his full-length debut this year dubbed The Vision. It is clear that Joker is consciously attempting to craft something unique, a work that will stand on its own and avoid becoming a mere product of the times. As with most debut albums, it is a somewhat uneven affair, yet shows a promise and talent that will keep the audience and his fans curiously returning for new material.
Ultimately, what keeps The Vision from becoming another novelty is that there is an inherently lasting quality to the music underneath the surface. The compositions are indelibly catchy, throbbing tracks whose beats inevitably ingrain themselves into the listener’s memory. Yet there is a weight and substance to each song, even in the instrumental tracks such as “Tron.” In fact, few can match the UK producer’s aptitude for electronically inclined melodies. Liam McClean knows this all too well, making Vision a very instrumentally heavy record. This concept subsequently somewhat drags the middle of the album. “Milky Way,” “Level 6,” and “My Trance Girl,” all back-to-back, create thirteen straight minutes of dubstep, sans vocals. Clearly not for the casual fan of the genre.
Like other artists in his musical field, Joker finds it difficult at times to meld dubstep with an actual song structure and lyrics. This causes an unevenness in Vision, as he sometimes attempts to cram both elements into a single composition. When McClean rather focuses his energies on creating one or the other, such as on highlights “Slaughter House” or “Electric Seas,” the results are exceptional. It took James Blake many EPs to discern the right mixture of DJ qualities and traditional song structures. Without a doubt, Liam McClean has the talent to eventually configure the perfect combination at some point, and it would be an unrealistic expectation to think he would have solidified his musical identity on his first proper album. Even with the occasional missteps, however, The Vision stands far above many of the other products of its genre, and hints at the ability of McClean to eventually gain massive crossover appeal and subvert the trappings and constrictions of his genre.