For as much as one may want to point at 100 other moments as the exact time when rap and EDM decided to get into bed with each other, it was arguably when 2011 Jay Z and Kanye West collaborative rap album track "Who Gon Stop Me" featured a sample from UK producer Flux Pavilion's dubstep heavy-hitter "I Can't Stop." Soon, the track didn't just become a staple of his sets, but became a staple of EDM overall, the surging minor keys of the track becoming seemingly ubiquitously tied to those three letters. However, in moving past that moment, Flux Pavillion's latest Circus Records release - the Freeway EP - still keeps the bass at the front, but in adding classic top 40 tropes of ear-worming melodies and vocals, plus collaborations with Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis shows that the once-time "bedroom producer" can't stop his move to an expanded expectation for his career aspirations.
EP leadoff single "Steve French" frankly sounds like every time I have ever heard a DJ drop AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" in a set in the past five years. The big kickdrums and scale-racing lead guitar riffs clearly influence the kicks and synths on this track. Even the disembodied "woo" on the track hearkens back to Skrillex's recent jaunt with another rock act, The Doors, on "Breakin' a Sweat." Yes, the track may grate and tire on the ears of the more progressive listener, but given how much of a superstar constant both Flux Pavilion and Steve Aoki have become on festival stages, such an overt courting of mainstream ears is obvious.
Radio airplay-ready singles become a continuing narrative on the EP with Rosie Oddie-feature "Gold Love." With it's huge vocals and construction around a blistering dubstep bassline, it's a rager of a track totally set for the radio or the festival. Right in line with AWOLNATION and Imagine Dragons, it's inclusion on the EP makes all of the sense in the world when compared to current pop tastes.
Flux Pavilion's moombahton duet with Dillon Francis on "I'm the One" sounds incredibly dated. While moombahton is absolutely not dead, the laser synths combined with Francis' desire to often make mid-tempo bass that sounds like house or trance done wrong than moombahton done right feels like what was cool when Francis made his arguably epic rise in 2011. Yes, the sound is spacious, unique and bordering on creating turn of the 21st century Ibiza-style ethereal sensations, but in 2013, moombahton like this feels as staid in style as many consider the sound to be in fact.
The EP's title track "Freeway" answers that burning question that everyone had on their mind: "what if Flux Pavilion could sing?" This is EP's other significantly "radio-friendly" single. In a continuing trend of tracks sounding dated to an ear well-versed in EDM, the track's moody yet sensual essence gives the song the feel of being best described as "emo purple festival bass," as if Flux Pavilion and UK bass maestro Joker got together in 2009 and somebody just discovered the session files. Everybody asking if moombahton is dead could just as easily have asked the question about luvstep recently, but this song's emotional content making me want to cry tears and wipe them on your girlfriend's tutu at Holy Ship certainly proves that sound is alive as well.
The EP closer "Mountains and Molehills" features top UK rock duo Turin Brakes. The drums that open the track feel haunted, yet inviting and wholly reggae inspired, similar to Stewart Copeland of The Police. This "Major Lazer-lite" style offers a space for EDM in pop at-the-moment as radio continues to be dominated by Avicii's "jug band rave" sounds. The vocals work well here, and to borrow an oft-sampled phrase from the Trapaholics crew, this is definitely some "middle of the mall shit." Featuring not just great production, but terrific in-studio execution, it's a great close to the EP.