It’s difficult to ignore the grip Skrillex has had on the mainstream dubstep scene, having attained eight Grammys in just five years, not counting the several others he was nominated for. Though his sound has evolved — from the bass-heavy, mosquito-repelling “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” to the brash “Bangarang” to his relatively pop-sounding collaboration album with fellow electronic titan Diplo, which yielded the infamous earworm “Where Are Ü Now” featuring none other than the Biebs himself — his music has always sounded uniquely him. Skrillex requires your volume to be cranked up, full-blast, and every song is adorned with his signature blown-out, migraine-inducing beat drops.
His two newest albums, however, are a mixed bag, more eclectic than his past material and encompassing a wide array of electronic subgenres. They both were released after a nearly two-year wait since the first single, “Butterflies,” which dropped back in May 2021.
The second of the two albums to drop, Don’t Get Too Close, is not worth any listener’s time. Don’t give in to the allure of the big names scattered across the tracklist: Every glimmer of hope this album has is smothered by something unfavorable. “Selecta” sounds like it could have been a better cut on Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind if it weren’t for the hair-raising lyrics “Oh, make me make my imprint on you,” giving off unflattering, animalistic vibe — specifically the word “imprint,” which should never be used in any sexual context ever. “Way Back” starts off as a half-decent PinkPantheress track, utilizing her signature two-step garage aesthetics, but the runtime is painfully short, aborting any concept of a functional hook and instead blue-balling the listener. Every other track is plagued with either appallingly juvenile lyrics (like on the title track, which deserves to be avoided like the plague) or lackluster, phoned-in performances sure to put the listener into a deep, irreversible coma (especially on the Yung Lean and Bladee-anchored tracks). There are truly no redeeming moments on this dumpster fire of an album.
Quest for Fire is leaps and bounds better in quality than its sister release. For one, the sound is significantly more refined and expansive: “Tears,” a personal favorite song on the album, sees Skrillex side-stepping into U.K. dubstep, foraging through heavy sub-bass and murky vocal samples, with each section of the track transitioning seamlessly into the next. The echoing samples fit with the song’s sonic spaciousness and paranoia. The subsequent track, “Rumble,” carries over similar aesthetics and lives up to its title. It puts the listener on edge with a tense and shuddering synth that cuts through the slow, stalking beat so aggressively that the listener can physically feel its menace. The track doesn’t overstay its welcome, ending like an abrupt rollercoaster ride, which makes it all the more enticing.
The lead single “Butterflies” is a blissful house track perfect for the outdoor summer club scene. Four Tet’s contribution is a much-needed addition to the track, providing endorphin-boosting chimes to match the glitched-out textures and shuffling house beat. The track “XENA” is the sonic antithesis of “Butterflies,” with contributions from Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti, who brings an incredible worldly flare to the already propulsive track. She starts with a war cry and transitions into an incredibly hooky, assertively-sung, foot-tapping Arabic melody that pairs with the clamor of the mix’s hand drums. The track, though totally different from anything Skrillex has done in the past, is total chaos in the best way possible.
The album explores many genres, though one of its faults is that it lacks cohesion. There is nothing tying these tracks together other than Skrillex’s name, who diversified his sound and production team so much that the album feels more like a compilation of recent songs — especially given that the first single from the album was released almost two years ago. Some tracks are worse than others: “Inhale Exhale” is barren and lacking, going nowhere but the “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale,” which becomes incredibly annoying after its 100th repetition. “A Street I Know” carries over the same gripes, with a beat and a sample reminiscent of “Gold” by Kiiara, a sonic aesthetic that should be left in the past.
Critics were right in saying that this album is Skrillex’s rebirth, for he has never been showcased as this diverse and talented of a producer as on Quest for Fire. When he gets it right, he gets it right.
Daily Arts Writer Zachary Taglia can be reached at email@example.com.