Monday, November 5, 2012

Album Review: Reso - Tangram

Album Rating: A-/A
Today's brostep controversy has raged for a few years now, and hasn't shown any sign of letting up. There's an incredible polarization in the electronic scene between the mid-range crowd and the low-end crowd, and neither side seems to care particularly for the other. Almost all brostep artists have come under fire as "unskilled," "obnoxious," "not subtle," and "exactly what's wrong with dubstep today." With that being said, however, one of the few producers who's managed to evade much of the criticism other big names receive on a daily basis is Reso. It's somewhat puzzling that people can fawn over him and not be dismissed as "scene kids," while most of his dubstep does in fact have a certain focus on mid-range sawtooth wobbles. Maybe he's managed to avoid controversy because he's been producing that style of dubstep since he first made it big, back when a certain Sonny Moore was still lead singer of post-hardcore band From First To Last. Maybe it's because he doesn't limit himself to abrasive synth leads, as he's been known to delve into other tempos and styles of electronic music rather than stick with a standard 140 BPM tune. And maybe it's because the "real dubstep" fans recognize (to a certain extent) Reso's talents: his production is always graced with complex beats, an interesting low end, and other elements normally not found in stereotypical brostep.

On his new album, Tangram, it's clear that Reso is trying to separate himself from the phenomenon that has taken the world by storm as of late. What's really nice to hear, then, is that he's done just that on the LP. The album is just varied enough to still feel like it's cohesive, mixing in his standard 140 BPM fare with more chilled out electronic music at varying tempos, songs that showcase his immense skill with electronic drums, and even material that interweaves various prog elements with more familiar electronic styles. That's not to say his "standard 140 BPM fare" isn't good, though. Opener "Exoframe" sees Reso's take on a form of dubstep that's almost industrial, with brutal, lower-mid-range synths carefully restrained over a more typical broken 140 beat that eventually turns into a more complex bass-snare combination. The arpeggio-based 1.5-minute lead-in to the main section does a great job setting up the wobbles that Reso is known for, and he keeps the piece intense through the entire seven-minute run time. "Half Life" succeeds in a similar fashion, with ominous drums guiding the listener through a futuristic opening segment until the lower wobbles drop in along with a ticking beat and a heavily pulsating bassline.

Most of the album isn't typical Reso dubstep, though. "Axion" is the first track that jolts the listener out of the comfort of a "normal" half-time beat, with its almost IDM-like modern jazz drums that justifiably draw the main focus of the song. Eerie synths and wobbles fade in and out behind jarring kicks, snare hits and cymbal taps, and the complex, subtle beat demonstrates Reso's skill outside of a more conventional boom-clap rhythm. "Nempo" is similar, using somewhat unconventional breaks and a high piano line to accentuate the gritty wobbles that come in with surprisingly little fanfare. The last minute or two of the song sees more ambient synth chords lead into the other prevalent non-dubstep style on Tangram - a downtempo, less aggressive sound that displays Reso's variety exceptionally well. The song that "Nempo" fades into, "Backwards Glance," has an almost ambient vibe about it. A light, percussive synth lead carefully makes its way through a casually clicking beat, and the repeated four-note feel of that lead continues throughout the song over a background of faint, almost staticky chords. It's somewhat unexpected given the nature of Reso's music, but it ends up succeeding greatly and providing enough of a fresh face to the release to keep the listener on his or her toes. "Virtua Rhythm" comes as close to prog as electronic music normally dares to go, with a nasally keyboard riff and a plucky baseline normally not found in the styles of music Reso dabbles in. Near the end of the album, "Check 1,2" throws one more curveball into the mix, with its faded beat, synths, and samples leading right into a glitch hop banger with Reso's trademark wobbles. It's got everything you'd expect from genre superstars like Opiuo and K+Lab, except with a spin that's distinctly Reso.

The best summary of the album as a whole is closing track "Tabris." The seven and a half minute piece synthesizes the rest of the album into one track, and the end result is one of the best 140 BPM songs of the year. With it, the minor failures of the album - a too-abrasive "Ishimura," a half-failed attempt at interesting downtempo with "Simple Pleasures" - fade away into insignificance. A tuneless introduction transitions directly into a prog-rock keyboard and almost guitar-like distortion that can only really be described as "epic," especially in conjunction with crashing drums that sound like they were pulled straight out of a classic Dream Theater song. A more subdued synth pattern in the middle of the piece that sounds like Reso revamping what worked in "Backwards Glance" leads into a fantastic keyboard solo that carries the listener through to the 1.5-minute closing section that utilizes frantic, frenetic futuristic and machinelike sounds that build until the piece suddenly transitions to clean electric guitar, chilled-out drums, and piano to quietly and anticlimactically finish off an album of such magnitude. It's a fitting end to Tangram, an album with no shortage of twists and turns. What's so incredibly impressive about the album, though, is not just the fact that it has so much variety in a choked and clogged electronic world, but also just how well Reso performs that variety. Although the album goes a lot of places in terms of its style, Reso is always at the top of his game. The "true dubstep" superfans who fill the air with scathing criticism for all things "brostep" won't have any dirt on Reso here - no matter whether wobbles are the best thing ever or everything wrong with electronic music today, it's evident that Tangram is a success.


1. Exoframe
2. Creature
3. Axion
4. Coronium
5. Simple Pleasures
6. Virtua Rhythm
7. Interlude
8. Nempo
9. Backwards Glance
10. Half Life
11. Ishimura
12. Check 1,2
13. Tabris

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