Electronic dance music as a collection of trends tends to ebb and flow, to come and go in creative and reactive cycles. To some extent, the markedly restrained and experimental “post-dubstep” trend, a recent style of electronic music marked by skittering beats, minimalistic production and soul and R&B samples, is an example of this. This style acts as a reaction to the mainstream-ification and rise of excessive machismo in popular dubstep. It’s largely that context that provides us with the artistic climate we have, that lets artists like Mount Kimbie and James Blake rise to prominence with their soulful fair. And so one can see a certain wariness in electronic music for UK artists to approach anything less than absurdly subdued in their craft. Then along comes Rustie. In a defiant and ecstatic reversal, Rustie throws out Glass Swords, a triumphant exemplification of all things irresistibly enormous about dance music.
Rustie is a Glaswegian producer/musician who’s emerged lately as a leading feature in the Scottish scene, seen as an originator of the term “aquacrunk,” a genre which melds aspects of traditional UK dubstep and grime music with elements of American “crunk,” a style of hip-hop made popular by artists like Lil’ Jon. It should be noted at the outset that, even outside of the minimalistic and melancholic climate of late, Glass Swords stands out as stunningly fresh.
The style Rustie creates transcends his aquacrunk beginnings and becomes his own. There’s something about its effortless intermixing of vibes pulled from dubstep, rave, current bass music, hip-hop and IDM that gives a special sense of irresistibility. That “something” is the marked lack of seriousness with which the album takes itself. Rather than becoming mired in trenches of meaning and implications, Glass Swords is gloriously hedonistic and joyful. It is in a sense childish in its approach – yet the childish is not meant here in a pejorative way. Perhaps youthful is a better term. That’s not to say the album breezes by as something insubstantial and immediate, but rather that the sense of experimentation it approaches feels genuine – not merely experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but a true expression of youthful yet skilled exploration. That aura, combined with its absurd and ecstatic volume, is what makes the album so enticing. Despite its computerized origin, the music here feels fresh and energetic, anything but robotic and cold.
Don’t let the term “exploration” lead you to think that Glass Swords is something of a buffet of sounds.
Quite the opposite is true. In fact, some of the exact same synths and drum fills appear on multiple songs. For example, the same slap bass tone creates leads on two tracks almost right next to each other (“Flash Back” and “Hover Traps”). If you’re the sort of person who usually finds that sort of sonic replication obnoxious, fear not. That unashamed repetition is anything but obnoxious here because Rustie does it so unbelievably well. It’s perfectly acceptable that he’s stuck in one sort of sonic process because rather than it being the result of a lack of creativity, his singular aesthetic acts as a powerful base for even more powerful tunes.
Even then, going into this album looking for a sort of errant eclecticism isn’t the point. What Rustie is touching on is a youthful, danceable sense of abandon, but not one of a single person in a crowd, like the depersonalized experience of an outing at a club. Instead, the abandon that Glass Swords comes with is one grounded very much in its own individual voice. It’s impossible or at least extremely difficult to listen to tracks like “Ultra Thizz” or “All Nite” and not react to their enormous drops listen after listen without the same sense of ecstasy as the first time you heard it, or to take in the almost tongue-in-cheek crunk swagger of “City Star” without bobbing your head as if you’re a part of it. Rather than being cookie-cutter dance music, the album has enough identity that the immediate and physical response to it doesn’t fade; it continues and even amplifies on every repeat listen.
The album drops on Warp Records Oct. 11.