Devised, explored, and mastered: Porter Robinson’s electronic voyage, ‘Worlds’ [Album Review]
Only a few years ago, we first recognized Porter Robinson as a talented rising star in dance music when he brought us leaping to our feet with “Spitfire” and raging alongside the title call of “100% in the Bitch.” From 2010 to now, electronic music has welcomed the North Carolina native’s progressive aural evolution, already matured well beyond his young age of 22. “Easy” marked his first departure from the expected electro-heavy sound he first mastered, and since then we’ve been teased by a select few singles from his now-released LP. His journey birthed what was quickly named one of the most anticipated albums of the year, a twelve track exploration dubbed Worlds.
Appropriate as the introductory tune and as a transition between his earlier stylistic approaches, “Divinity” retains the same commanding electro dialogue of his older catalogue, but with a heavier emotive pull. While remaining enchanting all the same, the track opens up for an airier, floating ode to the new material that would emerge later in the album.
Though the producer himself never pinpointed a central theme to Worlds, without a doubt, “Sad Machine” is the staple beginning of a story told throughout Porter’s twelve new songs. Already fervently adored following its single release in May, the track elegantly ties together many of Porter’s strings of inspiration. Fascinated by Japanese Otaku culture – a subculture focused around anime – Porter has nestled many quirky associations within the project, including a Japanese emoticon, a Kaomoji, used to symbolize his album, and samples that reflect sharp, high-pitched vocals commonly associated with the subculture’s works. Via his live stream on Twitch, Porter explained that his choice to include “cutesy, pretty” voices was no mistake and is in fact a consistent commonality throughout his album.
Determined to paint a cinematic picture with his newest track list, “Years of War” explodes forward as an anthem of sorts, intertwining piercing vocals for an electronic march. “Flicker” adds more yet to the expansive swathe of sound within Worlds, with a beat that pulls from both hopping bass beats and jazzy synth lifts to envelope another Japanese vocal sample for a song that, despite its under five minute length, adventures through a complex and layered musical exploration.
Sounds plucked throughout “Fresh Static Snow” are reminiscent of Porter’s own alumni tour mates, The M Machine. Utilizing deep, groaning synth arrangements, the track breaks for a vocoded chorus manipulation without forgoing catching and contradictory upbeat undertones. While also naming Daft Punk’s Discovery as his main inspiration for falling into an instant-hook styled track, “Polygon Dust” invites indie band Lemaitre for another weightier exploration of Porter’s balance between thundering electro break downs and ethereal vocals. All the way through, unmistakable chiptune sound bytes retain the album’s back-to-basics electronic integrity.
Worlds interjects a welcomed interlude with the melodic tones of “Hear the Bells” and “Natural Light.” Staying true to his word when first revealing details of his new album, Porter’s vision to create organic, natural sounds with exploratory visual accompaniments shines in this section of Worlds. Much like a story with a defined beginning, middle, and end, Porter begins to enter into the final chapter of Worlds as “Lionhearted” reinvigorates listeners. Arguably the most pop-tone of his album, his collaboration with Urban Cone seamlessly dances between the self-described “cutesy” and lighthearted atmosphere of much of Worlds while balancing a heavy dose of his own well-refined, compounded layers of electronic bursts.
It’s hard to forget the frenzy that surrounded the first teaser of Porter Robinson’s distinct shift in musical style, debuted as the album’s first single “Sea of Voices” in the early March of this year. Although perhaps initially taken aback by his pronounced change, fans were hooked at the start from the track’s sweeping gestures. Even early on, many compared Porter’s initial single release to that of M83’s larger-than-life soundtracks. Following the feathery lightness of “Sea of Voices” comes “Fellow Feeling,” a robust orchestral burst of somber emotion.
Fittingly, “Goodbye to a World” bids Worlds farewell. A spine-tingling vocal piece ties the grand concept of his newest album together while still allowing Porter to showcase his well trained ear for forcefully demanding electro bursts. “I want [Worlds] to feel like an escape into a big, beautiful world,” Porter said. “With a lot of songs in the Worlds show, I’ve made the songs prettier, bigger. I’m dying to bring that show on the road.”
The next step for Porter is indeed, to bring Worlds to life on tour. While the listening portion of Worlds stands alone as a standout album of the year, Porter has explained that the songs will be brought to a new, bigger and better life with visual appendages to be showcased on his upcoming live shows. His North American Worlds Tour kicks off on August 28th.