Porter Robinson - Worlds

The young EDM headliner's new record reaches beyond the current boundaries of electric dance music.

Additional Info

8.0

ALBUM: Worlds

ARTIST: Porter Robinson

2014

Electronic

Video games are a controversial influence, and often a chastised recipient of a bad reputation for violent and addicting qualities. A 2014 film entitled “Love Child” documents a horrific consequence to massive multiplayer-online role-playing game addiction. Meanwhile, a study published in Pediatrics Journal on NPR found children and teenagers 10-15 to be happier and more satisfied with 1-3 hours of gaming a day, as opposed to no gaming, or excessive gaming.

It seems video game culture has come to be a virtual part of everyone’s reality, and its effects are showing up in a myriad of ways, positive and negative. It’s far from common to expect that a youth-oriented escape route from the world to inspire musical genius, but electronic dance music icon Porter Robinson dedicates the inspiration for his first full-length album Worlds to the impressions of virtual realities on him growing up. “I basically spent my childhood on the computer, playing online games and watching animé, starting with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and then anything on Adult Swim. “Worlds” is kind of a homage to all those fictional universes that I loved growing up,” Robinson said.

Robinson was making music and being recognized for it on a global scale as a kid of 18, with no real angle or direction for his sound. He wanted to make the most technically challenging EDM of today, but wasn’t necessarily concerned with the final products’ sound. 22-year-old Robinson, at the top of the EDM scene, found himself fearful that his music stood for nothing. In his search to make an album with intention, Robinson returned to his hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina to contemplate. His brainstorming circled back to video game tropes and anime chords and progressions time and time again. In this reoccurrence, Robinson saw a universal application: “I’ve realized everyone has a fictional universe that’s dear to them, whether it’s literature or Dungeons & Dragons or HBO. People enjoy immersing themselves in fiction and fantasy — it’s a phenomenon that’s all-encompassing.”

Aligning his music with the collective need to “check out” is a smart move, and an alluring concept for his album Worlds that reaches beyond the current extent of electric dance music. Indie bands have latched onto the concept of being as a shoulder to lean on, with lyrics repeating renditions of “It’s alright,” “Don’t worry,” “You’re still young,” and “We’ll figure it out.” There is a definite offer coming from these musicians to relax and momentarily escape from pressures of life.

The reach of the escapism and fantasy presented through fictional worlds has spawned an inspiring gem with Worlds, but Robinson doesn’t want his inspiration to be misunderstood. The nature of his interest in these avenues of alternate realities came to be when he returned home to Chapel Hill, N.C. He doesn’t condone the escapism in the world of EDM that is sought out through drugs and intoxication. He doesn’t partake, but speaks to his own experience with perception altering substances, attempting to relate: “My favorite experience in life, probably, is drinking a lot of caffeine and getting really hyped up and listening to music and going for a drive. And that’s chemically assisted and it’s one of the most transcendent, beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. Of course, it’s critical that people be super safe about it.”

So, he claims to understand the allure of perspective altering substances, but he’s more interested in the many realities created through creative imagination and sound. His personal connection to the realm of video games created an album that aligns fascinatingly close to the objective of many contemporary indie rock-pop and electronic albums of 2014: the escape.

Worlds reflects the build-build-drop pattern heard in the electronic festival genre, but adds layers of intricate sound and plays with perplexing notions about reality, humanity, and identity. The sounds in a few tracks evoke imagery of nature, and the apocalyptic notions in the lyrics leads the listened to draw conclusions about Robinson making reference to saving the planet. It’s possible he’s reaching further, especially with “Goodbye to a World”, making a statement about how society has a stigma on video games, which represent alternate realities to some.

“Is anyone there?”

1. Divinity
The beginning of the track sounds pixilated, with staccato electronic sounds emanating over a booming bass. The song reminds of even progression, moving forward methodically, very reminiscent of the early 90’s Gameboy games. The bass stops halfway through, and a misty floating quality comes, brought on by swelling violins. “We will wait for this”, stands out over the other lyrics, repeated twice as often. It’s intriguing, but the listener faces a wall when they are giving no explanation but, “Lean into my side/ Never felt alive/Call the chains inside/You see right through me”. Singer Amy Millian’s voice is sweet and small, a welcome contrast to the sharp electronic noises. Speculation on the lyrics renders images of breaking through a fortress in armor. The song has a clunky, jabbing beat that jumps out over softer electronic tones.8.5
2. Sad Machine
As if stolen from Dance Dance Revolution, a small, computer generated voice with a notable Asian accent asks, “Is anyone there?” It’s melancholy and affecting, as the small voice seems to come from inside a computer, reaching out to the listener for help. After we enter “Play” mode denoted by the computer generated voice in the initial beginnings of the track, the lyrics evolve into a fantastical story on rescuing, “This girl who slept a hundred years”. The lyrics paint a picture of a noble quest to rescue a damsel in distress. The musicality accompanying the gallant tale stays on a similar plane throughout. A dull bass quickly rushes in the background as the same two chords are repeated in glittering electronic tones. Some of the tones seem to be pulled directly from The Legend of Zelda. The concluding moments of the song solely rely on the borrowed sounds.8.2
3. Years of War
The same emphatic bass returns, and the title warrants a track as epic as the first. The lyrics are applicable to video game world scenarios that Robinson has so aptly brought to our attention, but it could also be referring to a more realistic course of events, as well. “Two hundred years of war/ fight ‘til we are no more”, sounds eerily familiar to Vietnam war protests, or even protestors of the war in the Middle East that begun in 2001. “That mine is a hand to hold/Take back what the kingdom stole/A curse on the streets of gold”, adds a dose of fantasy to the scene where the streets are paved with gold.7.2
4. Flicker
“Flicker” begins with electronic sounds similar to those in Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories that morph into a groovy beat. “Flicker” comes across as mellow and sunny as the drama instilled in tracks 1-3 is moved to the backburner. This track acts as a break from the moral questions posed through video games and war. A Japanese phrase is repeated over and over, it’s translation being, “I'm tying to find what's the most important, It is a way to lose track of a life of their own”, reflecting his anime upbringing through the language used. The snips and blips of the vocals the Robinson threads in and out between the bass becomes an eerie reminder of the being behind the fabricated music. 7.9
5. Fresh Static Snow
The happy go lucky high-pitched electro noises are replaced here for a grinding, funky rhythm. The video game influences have audibly dissipated. Like the tracks so far, the lyrics are ambiguous and melancholic, appearing as letters to a loved one with no sender or recipient. Lacking any realistic application, the first line of the song apparently addresses “static snow” itself. Robinson cleverly devised the image of fresh static snow. The term static implies the snow is freshly fallen and coating the ground, without movement. Static is a term emerging from EDM scene as well, conjoining the image of the new snow with the grinding sound of the track. “Don't move so lightly, static snow, that is your memory” is a puzzling line; trudging through fallen snow would indeed erase the memory of the snow on the group, but the lyric is directed at the snow, not the trudging feet walking through. The remainder of the lyrics require an equal amount of pondering.8.3
6. Polygon Dust
The intro sounds like a synthesized organ playing a ruminating hymn. Seconds later, an 80s pop beat joins underneath, changing the vibe. A powerful bass punches over it all for a dynamic mix of energy. The lyrics in this track surpass the previous ambiguous lines and move on to a higher level of word play. Messing with tense and conjugation, a rhythm is created within the songwriting alone, backed by a plodding beat. Smooth jazz attributes are paired with the rollicking bass that Robinson employs throughout the album. Lemaitre’s voice is lulling and soft, cutting through the aggressiveness of the bassline. “Walking on wasted, tracing back the steps/Oh I can't taste it, the secret I have kept” sounds like a man lost and out of touch.8.7
7. Hear the Bells
“Hear the Bells” begins with mimed bells created on a turntable. They ring and chime and repeat like a ringtone. The incorporation of Imaginary Cities casts a dense cloud of breathy indie influence over Robinson’s thudding static bass. The lyrics return to the aforementioned sense of ambiguity with, “Can't you hear the bells singing alone?/You will hear it on the radio/Can't you see the hero coming home?/Can't you hear the bells?” repeating over and over.6.9
8. Natural Light
This track inspires some serious body rolling and hair swinging. Simplistic and heavy, Robinson pulls off a killer lyric-less jam with “Natural Light”. On top of his video game theme, which emerges seldom here, is a layered of references to an arctic tundra, as the wonky bass imitates a wind storm and the chimes a top the bass are the refractions of “Natural Light” off the snow.9.0
9. Lionhearted
One of the most popular tracks off this album so far, “Lionhearted” immediately emerges as a song you want to dance to, shake your hips to, tap your foot to, etc.. It’s groovy vibes and whispered lyrics combine for a space aged electronic jam, with The lyrics are mostly of the chorus, “They broke the walls we guarded/But we don't care about it/We'll finish what we started/So promise me that/We'll be the lionhearted". They’re inspiring, care free and determined. The vocal collaboration is smooth and organic, without exposing the unusual pairing.8.3
10. Sea of Voices
The initial wind chimes confuse, as if the track were to continue on with such a peaceful manner, so completely different from the usual Porter Robinson. Strings flutter in and out of the track, elevating the uplifting nature. The song experiences a much more varied incorporation of sound and emotion than other electronic artists he’s lines up with like Deadmau5 or Dillon Francis. Three minutes into the five minute track a young, angelic voice solely sings, “We'll see creation come undone”, a jarring sentiment. A booming bass comes in after the voice leaves, bringing back the signature style. The remainder of the lyrics are equally as creepy, “These bones that bound us will be gone/We'll stir our spirits 'til we're one/Then softest shadows will be gone”, inciting illusions of after death experiences.8.3
11. Fellow Feeling
The strings are back, swelling in their own, solo glory. Again, the track is perplexing; Robinson is actually stepping up his game immensely. Cellos join the violins for a more layered symphony, and the song sounds like it should be concluding a romantic film. Two minutes in, the electronic genre is back with bumping bass and an ethereal female voice, speaking a vague personal anecdote much like those presented in video games, given clip by clip as you advance through the levels. She says, “Now please, hear what I hear”, and the energy drops into a dark place with grinding, thick sounds. The track literally becomes a play by play scenario, with the return of the voice speaking, “Let me explain/This ugliness, this cruelty, this repulsiveness/It will all die out/And now, I cry for all that is beautiful”. The narration focuses from simply mimicking a video game, to applying the montage/anecdote approach seen in video games to reality. The listener can choose which ugliness is identified, allowing the track to resonate on a multitude of levels.10.0
12. Goodbye to a World
The intro sounds like an electronically synthesized lullaby, swaying from chord to chord. The voice from “Sad Machines” is back to say goodbye, almost crying in it’s synthetically sad tones, “Thank you, I’ll say goodbye soon/Though its the end of the world, don't blame yourself now/And if its true, I will surround you and give life to a world/That’s our own”. The sentiment is wonderfully romantic and poetic, contrasting with preconceived notions of EDM. Applied to a video game, the quote is comforting and alluring, pulling the player back for another round. When applied to reality, the quote procures thoughts of saving the planet and being green. The fact that his lyrics are so widely applicable detracts from their poignancy yet speaks volumes of his poetic tendencies.9.2
Written by Shelby Tatomir
Reading and writing are my roots, making music, design, and photography sprouting branches of special interests that I am always striving to cultivate.



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