Review: DJ Snake – Encore

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A record in which personal signatures become tedious gimmicks and self-development turns regressive and unconfined, DJ Snake's full-length debut is a profusely faulted conundrum.

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When ‘Middle’ trickled out of relatively nowhere last October, I was confident that I’d uncovered a little gem. To an extent, that became true: six months later, it received a gold certification from the BPI after its optimism, particularly from Mancunian singer Bipolar Sunshine, and then-fresh stretched vocal snippets in the break came together to create a very solid pop song that happened to be DJ Snake’s first proper solo single. Though gathering acclaim since pitching in with ‘Government Hooker’ on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Paris-born William Grigahcine’s rise began properly with ‘Turn Down For What,’ an overwhelmingly brash party record with Lil Jon that is the mournful soundtrack to many a weekend hangover. Following work both with and around the likes of AlunaGeorge and Major Lazer, ‘Middle’ hinted at a more mature, well-realised output with a clear pop touch and listenability. Instead, Encore is a chaotic jumble of castoffs each found slipping into a trap of mediocrity.

Once you’ve got ‘Middle’ out of the way–as the album’s first proper track, such an endeavour won’t take you long–there’s very little to be achieved in persisting. ‘Talk,’ a rebuild of George Maple’s 2014 debut single ‘Middle’ that he sprung on her two years after a Sydney hotel session in which he introduced her to ‘Lean On,’ is of much the same vain. Its drive and desirability comes from Maple’s sincere angle on hesitant relationships (“Touch of your skin blurring my vision / Seeing the same film again”) and her delicately rounded vocal performance. There’s the same soothing beach lilt that infects just about every successful radio record these days, and the chorus falls into a call-and-response scenario with arpeggiated ascents of sung distortions and panpipes to counter.

Both are amongst a cohort of Encore components that, at least in comparison to everything else ever released under the DJ Snake banner, are plain and pleasant tropical pop ditties that owe everything to ‘Lean On,’ his billion-streamed collaboration with titans of increasingly pseudo-dancehall Major Lazer. ‘Let Me Love You,’ the album’s surefire breakout moment thanks to the bloke called Justin balladeering over the top, is even more liberal in what ideas it intensely paraphrases. If anyone else had their name on the door–David Guetta, say–then the plagiarism accusations would surely be profuse. All that truly differs is the percussion, which is far less crisp this time around; the slurring chopped voices of the drop, which are yet more conducive to retching; and that MØ sits out for her ‘Cold Water’ companion Bieber to be his usual chart-juggernauting falsetto-flashing self, despite having little to work with–“Don’t you give up, na na na / I won’t give up, na na na / Let me love you / Let me love you,” he sings on the ‘hook,’ clearly not on the topic of this record.

Even more frustratingly, that’s nowhere near the chain of pale, lazy imitations of old ends. Various moments exhibit a roughened form of the abrasive nature displayed by pre-Bangarang Skrillex, which drag the tone kicking and shrieking away from that fluffy pop pandering. Dutch outfit Yellow Claw shows up for ‘Ocho Cinco’ and bring a ghastly eruption of hardstyle to the snake-charming melodies of ‘Get Low,’ Snake’s co-billing on Dillon Francis’ Money Sucks, Friends Rule. This freak genre hop is made even more prominent by its placement, sitting to end the first half sandwiched between the introspective ‘Talk’ and ‘The Half,’ its first investigation into trap’s Atlanta-based hip-hop side. ‘The Half,’ led by Jeremih and Young Thug with a few augmentations from Swizz Beatz, is surprisingly one of the most tolerable moments, with a solid and positive beat and the most enjoyable/legible turn from Young Thug that I’ve encountered since Jamie xx’s In Colour. On the track, the masking of Snake’s trademark by the rather typical radio-rap-trap going on around makes it feel far less garish and, at this stage in the record, more accomplished.

Whether it be through guest vocalists or friends lending their monikers to the production, all bar two of the tracks are collaborations. Encore’s two moments of unfiltered Snake, though, are poor. ‘Propaganda,’ slipped in between two cuts with G4shi, is a collection of rapidly-fired assaults on eardrums. The other, ‘Intro (A86),’ is merely self-explanatory, taking us into the desert that the cover depicts by wafting through 83 seconds of you-know-what with simple chords and a spoken sample about new beginnings. Combine it simultaneously with ‘Sahara,’ an actual collaboration with Skrillex that dwells in the same A minor key and just three beats per minute faster, and the two are indistinguishable. Hold ‘Sahara’ down ever so slightly to match them up and their carbon-copy meanderings lock completely, with the intro fading to nought at the exact moment that the developed version hits with its pre-drop double-tempo kick. Some might call it genius, but this unimpassioned repetition (followed by no satisfactory fruit) on a project of ill-achieved self-pastiche encompasses an Encore that few could possibly clamour for.

Encore is out now via Interscope

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Official email person, rambly music writer, and former Records Editor at The Edge. Often found playing pop music too loud on Surge Radio.

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