Album Review: Worlds – Porter Robinson

Time for another all-too-uncommon album review, this time from guest writer, graphic artist and DJ extraordinaire Youniversal.

—Written by Youniversal—

—Edited/formatted by Vagrantesque—

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Released:
August 2014
Label:
Virgin Records
Genre: EDM
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All ethereal-like.

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TRACK LISTING

1. Divinity (feat. Amy Millan)
2. Sad Machine
3. Years of War (feat. Breanne Duren & Sean Caskey)
4. Flicker
5. Fresh Static Snow
6. Polygon Dust (feat. Lemaitre)
7. Hear the Bells (feat. Imaginary Cities)
8. Natural Light
9. Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)
10. Sea of Voices
11. Fellow Feeling
12. Goodbye To a World

There comes a time in every conceptual cycle where the new kid on the block finds a unique answer to the age old question: “What comes next?” On August 12th 2014, 22 year old Porter Robinson released a masterpiece that used its devices to break the limitations of what the industry would consider EDM. ‘Worlds’ is a 12 piece synthpop album that takes the charm of a late 90’s 32-bit title and the flare of otaku culture, then shoves them together to produce what you could call a beautifully glitchy nostalgic mess. Using the english vocaloid AVANNA by Zero G and the help of artists such as Amy Millan and Urban Cone, Robinson guides his listeners through a universe of escapism and the unlikely relationships that blossom between reality and the digital world.

The major thing that struck me when I first listened to the album was how familiar each song sounds. The motif of the tracks are very clearly emphasised through its carefully selected arrangement of samples and chords that are resemblant of games that many (including myself) would find nostalgic. Little things like the fairy bottle sound from Zelda or an ambient chord progression with a square wave can trigger so many memories and utilise that familiarity of nostalgia to effectively connect with an audience. Porter nails this concept and runs with it from the get-go in Divinity, all the way to the highly emotional ending of Goodbye To A World.

AVANNA plays a massive part in representing the persona of a robotic girl who bonds with the likes of a human boy. Featuring in Sad Machine, Fresh Static Snow and Goodbye To A World, the English speaking vocaloid becomes an important part to the construct of the narrative as Porter describes the unlikely relationship through her grainy and glitching voice. There’s a really sincere and genuine timbre in the vocaloid’s expression which helps suspend the disbelief of the situation that Porter attempts to portray.

It would be foolish, though, to assume that this character only represents what she sings about when the entire album is collectively about a digital embodiment of escapism and fantasy.When asked about inspiration in a few different interviews, Porter touched on the emotional response he experienced while watching the collapse of MMO’s that would shut down over time due to a lack of players or funding, and how (as a player) the investment of time that is shared inside that virtual world is suspended in those final hours of the farewell. As gamers, we know that when we fall in love with a carefully designed world, the time and effort that is invested constructs the aesthetic and narrative of the character we play. The moment where a player stops addressing their character as a subject and starts referring to it as his/her self is that defining moment of embrace that Porter uses as a building block for his concept of Worlds and the persona of the female companion.

Another driving force behind this album is this idea of camaraderie through individualism. In Divinity, Years of War, Hear The Bells and Lionhearted, Porter utilises his ability to write empowering lyrics or a sing in a duet to give the album a sense of unity and support. There’s a great sense of collaboration that is adopted and proudly displayed throughout the course of the album that really ties together a sort of ‘riot kids’ motif. With a key force behind the album being about the depiction and painting of worlds and their stories, the collaborative efforts didn’t stop on an audible level; a huge part of the project was it’s vibrant concept art and glitch aesthetic. On purchasing the album, you’ll receive 12 Custom art Lithographs (totally worth it btw) and if you were lucky enough to obtain a ticket to the Worlds tour then you get to experience a full hour of animated, in-sync, low poly, narrative-appropriate gold produced by the one of the worlds best VJ’s, Ghostdad.

The tour has been defined as cross-media heaven, where the unshakable emotion of concert euphoria digests a full array of glitchy nostalgic triggers, leaving audience members in tears and hungry for a binge playing session of classic N64 titles and a studio ghibli marathon. The show toured major American cities, as well as Australia in November for Stereosonic. The amazing thing  about the performance is that it is contemporary and unique; the EDM scene is notorious for producing music that doesn’t feature narrative or utilise a particular emotive drive, limiting the boundaries for aspiring artists (both audio based and visual) in the live entertainment scene. Porter Robinson and Ghostdad together have opened the gate, even just a little, for digital performance-based artists who seek to construct or be a part of the industry and have shown the world another angle in the potential of digital expression.

If you haven’t already listened to the album I implore you to take 56 minutes out of your time to experience the highs and lows of Worlds, I am convinced that this masterpiece is the start of a new trend in EDM and its unique sound is truly warming, particularly from a gamer’s perspective. From robot love to a collapsing system, these tracks each hold a pot of feels just waiting for you to smash open and jam out to.

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THE VERDICT

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Strongest Tracks:
Divinity, Sad Machine, Polygon Dust, Years of War, Lionhearted, Goodbye To A World
Weakest Tracks:
Natural Light
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5 VsP H E N O M E N A L

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