As the dubstep back catalogue starts to reach impressive proportions, one of its leading protagonists returns with his second long player. But, as Skream himself has said recently, what is dubstep exactly?
Many might see it as a bass line to harm your dental implants, combined with carefully crafted atmospherics up top. Skream has always had his own individual take on electronic music that falls into line with dubstep, and in the period since his pioneering 2006 debut album he has been far from idle, giving us a blistering Watch The Ride compilation and a potentially scene-defining remix of the La Roux hit In For The Kill.
As if to recognise the impact of that remix, Elly Jackson pops up towards the end of the record with tense ballad Finally, illustrating a clear chemistry between the two. Yet by then it is already abundantly clear Skream will be around for the long haul, as this record is significantly different from what went before.
That’s not to say Outside The Box is a walkover, however, for it takes longer to appreciate than its predecessor. Many of the tracks have a tension built up at their core, threatening to explode but not always going stellar. The idea of building this tension before the beats cut loose is a technique the In For The Kill remix perfected – but on the flipside it can mean a lot of unresolved tension, especially if the track doesn’t kick off the way you hope it might.
Such tension is common in dubstep records of course, and you could argue that in the albums of the likes of Burial and Benga it is left deliberately unresolved. But as Skream has a certain pop sensibility running through his work, the coming together of the two styles can lead to some odd results.
With that taken into account, there are several outstanding moments to be had with Outside The Box, which is not surprising when you consider Skream had over 800 songs from which to choose. Chief among them is Where You Should Be, its fluttering synthesizer arpeggios the perfect background to a husky Sam Frank vocal. The smoking I Love The Way gets all atmospheric above its big drum guns, whipping up a storm when it finally kicks in, while Reflections, in league with d-bridge and Instra-Mental, is a beautifully crafted mood piece.
Skream appears to have reached an appealing crossroads with the underground and commercial aspects of his work, and when they come together in equal measure this can lead to a thrilling outcome. That this album is a very good one rather than outstanding is because that balance isn’t quite sustained throughout, but make no mistake – this is one talented producer willing to push the boat out a bit.