Virtual Self - "Virtual Self EP"
VIRTUAL SELF EP
Virtual Self / November 29th 2017
Can music exist without meaning? Formalism, or “music for the sake of music” is music enjoyed by an appreciation of its ‘formal’ structure and technical construction. Nothing more. It doesn’t appear that there is much meaning in Porter Robinson’s new alias Virtual Self and subsequent self-titled EP, other than an unquenchable and seemingly inexplicable desire to create a homage to early trance and techno music. While there are flashes of the artist within the artist, including his love of playing with dynamics, you can feel an underlying restraint to hold back and stick to the script. An unwillingness to deviate from his mysterious mission to create a trance album circa 1995, instead of making a classic album that builds upon the sounds of the past. It is a cruel restraint placed on himself, by himself, that ultimately stagnates the 5 songs and hinders its ability to flourish the way it should, considering the musical brilliance of its creator.
“Particle Arts” starts off the 5 song EP with light, glitzy keys straight out of a 1994 video game, sounding like an early Skrillex hook he was practicing on the piano before MIDI came around. Either way, things change in a hurry. The keys become loud and aggressive, and the dull snare sounds of the 90’s build the intro to a drop. There is a lot going on in the verse, with frenzied DnB breaks, vocal chops, and intricate panning. The chunky bass drum and flat snare fist-pump fearlessly throughout the verse. Is Robinson paying homage to the early musical roots of his growing up? Is he trying to build on a forgotten genre that he has a soft spot for? It is hard to say. Regardless, he kicks off the EP riding a fine line between a tribute to genres of the past, and taking himself too seriously.
Following “Particle Arts comes “Ghost Voices”, the unrivaled class of this EP. Wasting no time, Robinson is all in after an 8-bar intro. Reece bass and gentle arps flutter over quintessential techno vocals that sound straight out of “Just Dance 93”. Interspersed between the bars are rapid FX and drum fills with ridiculous precision. The meat of the song is a polished and professional dance song that translates to 2017, but the rest of the song is confusing. This is a microcosm of the problems of the album. Snippets of raw musical instinct and technical mastery quickly vanishing back into almost cringe-worthy melodic decisions. Decisions that sound that they are made based solely on what would be made if it were the 90s and not a 2017’s rendition of it.
Time will tell where this project is going, and hopefully why, because after several listens it’s unclear what the listener can get from it. After debuting his new material in Brooklyn, Porter took to the mic to proclaim, “For the last two years I’ve been wanting to play all this music and I had it all, all this time and I wouldn’t play any of it in a Porter Robinson DJ set. I was really waiting for this so it could be all one thing. And this has been a really, really long time coming and it’s my favorite thing in the world.” Too bad it can't be for anyone else.