In 2005, when Skream first rode to wider public notice on the frosty arpeggios of Midnight Request Line, interviews told of Aphex-like tales of hard drives stuffed with 7,000-plus tracks. Given that, and despite a steady stream of 12-inch releases in the interim, it's surprising that Outside the Box is only Croydon-born Oliver Jones's second full-length since he started releasing music in 2003.
His 2006 debut album, Skream!, was patchy in comparison with the superb Skreamizm EPs that preceded it. But it nevertheless formed part of a wave of artist albums, including Burial's eponymous debut, which accelerated dubstep's transformation from hyped underground scene to the sort of influential position it's trying to enjoy being in today.
Another big part of that process was Skream's 2009 remix of La Roux's In for the Kill, and it's that same fusion of dubstep and pop that informs much of Outside the Box. It's an often uneasy mix, with several tracks here taking their cues more from commercial trance than the rave culture Jones says he wants to resurrect. The delay on the percolating mid-range wail of Listenin' to the Records on My Wall carries a faint echo of Midnight Request Line, and the Amen break rhythm is kosher drum'n'bass, but the melody and mechanics of the breakdown is pure Paul Van Dyk. Similarly, How Real, like the recent I Need Air single by Magnetic Man (Skream's collaboration with Benga and Artwork), is sharing water and hugs with the day-glo deely-bopper end of old-school rave. No law against that, but these are some of the most formulaic dance music styles around. Where's the creative reward in rehashing such old tricks?
There are uncomplicated pleasures to be found here: I Love the Way's rumbling breakbeat and gloomy descending organ stabs recall the exquisite misery of Liquid's Sweet Harmony; Reflections, a collaboration with drum'n'bass innovators dBridge and Instra:mental, develops pleasantly enough; Wibbler is a brute lump of brostep. Mostly, though, Outside the Box puzzles with its urge to pastiche the more commercial elements of dance music's past. The Epic Last Song represents the nadir of this approach, sounding like a drum'n'bass reversion of the Lambada.
If you hanker after the gritty, thrilling Skream there's his recent Freeizm Twitter track giveaway to enjoy. The one on show here is for a different crowd altogether.
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