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Skream
Outside The Box Colin McKean , August 24th, 2010 07:04

Ollie Jones (aka Skream) has done more than any other artist to popularise dubstep internationally - with the possible exception of Rusko, whose ambassadorship may not universally be considered a good thing. Now we have Outside The Box, Skream's sophomore album, following his remix of La Roux's 'In For the Kill', which is surely the biggest-selling track by a dubstep producer.

With his second album, Jones has taken a considerable risk. Outside The Box is not a dubstep record at all, and with its unabashed electronic pop, he may forfeit the underground credibility upon which his success is built. It sounds like he's banking on these tunes having sufficient mass appeal to allow him to make a Dizzee-like transition from the margins to the centre. He might pull it off, but if he fails the chants of "sellout" will be deafening. They might be deafening either way.

For much of the duration, Skream sounds intent on creating another moment with the hands-in-the-air immediacy of 'In For the Kill'. While that particular Midas touch appears largely to have eluded him, he comes pretty close, not least with 'Finally', which features Ellie Jackson on vocals.

Swathes of this material sounds like it has been tested in front of large audiences, and while opening trio 'Perferated', '8 Bit Baby' and 'CPU' would be capable scene-setters in virtually any live context, 'Where You Should Be', 'How Real' and 'Listenin' To The Records On My Wall' seem custom-built for festival crowds. Jones has talked of his desire to spark a rave revival with this album, and a flailing breakbeat rears its gurning head several times, most effectively towards the thrilling climax of 'I Love The Way'.

Elsewhere, the producer employs sounds and textures that wouldn't sound out of place on any common-or-garden Radio 1 drive time dance track. In truth, Outside the Box isn't short of moments where curds appear to be forming in the whey, but it isn't until the very last moment that he comes across all Alex James and sends a great round of Stilton bouncing down a hillside. 'The Epic Last Song' features a lead melody so gauche it would make Pendulum blush. Anyone remember the soundtrack to Super Hang-On?

Recent 12"s, including several on Shy FX's Digital Soundboy label, have demonstrated Skream's interest in mid-90s rave and jungle, and over the past year or so he has been moving away from the crushing half-step productions he previously designed for FWD's claustrophobic floor. Here, 'Fields of Emotion' and the self-explanatory 'Wibbler' are the only tracks that bear much resemblance to the music with which Skream made his name. And with the latter, one suspects, he might actually be taking the piss.

While he will doubtless continue to release relatively uncommercial club-wrecking singles, with this album Skream has distanced himself from his immediate contemporaries and, to an extent, from the dubstep scene entirely. It's virtually impossible to make any meaningful comparison between Outside the Box and, for example, Digital Mystikz' recent Return II Space, or Scuba's Triangulation (which will both surely, in the fullness of time, be considered key works in the modest canon of great dubstep albums.) Outside The Box is more directly comparable, both formally and in terms of its scope, ambition and pervasive vibe, to the work of such UK dance juggernauts as Orbital, Leftfield and The Prodigy - and most of all, perhaps, to The Streets and Dizzee. Whether its creator will emulate their popular success remains to be seen.

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