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Posted on June 4th, 2011 (4:02 pm) by Bradley Hartsell

Part of me wishes it were still 1990. Well, I’d love for everything to be like it is now (iPhone, Mac, DVR, being a full-fledged adult), but perhaps just the music scene should have stayed in 1990. Back then, kids were rushing to grab guitar rock cassettes and discs. Music seemed more immediate, with tangible people playing tangible instruments. If this seems like waxing curmudgeon, allow me to clear my name by saying I discovered my affinity for 90s indie rock retroactively, so it’s not a generational bias. My crustiness is not general, unfounded disdain, but rather, a lack of understanding. I hear at least three new albums a week, so I have a steady stream of the collective musical taste at the moment. New album after new album, I fail to see the motivation for most of them. Good albums catch me off guard and I feel like I’m thanking the artist for making something new. Magnetic Man could very well be the poster-child of my inability to grasp our newest trends.

I continue to hear endless dubstep albums more or less overlapping each other. When a genre is fledgling and all of its identifiable parts are starting to development, there comes an artist who takes it upon themselves to pool the most broad aspects of said genre and polish them up real good. I felt like Weezer tried to cash in on the college post-punk scene with one fell swoop on "The Blue Album." Weezer did a great job of reaching out to the cool kids who couldn’t get into Pavement. Similarly, I feel Magnetic Man, though without the tact of Weezer’s debut, is trying to make a charge at defining the genre through broad force.

The duo of Benga, Skream, are venerable producers in the industry. Joined here by Artwork, they’ve formed a trio ambitiously seeking out dubstep’s meekest qualities. Everything here is familiar: Machine-esque pronounced rhythms, buildups and breakdowns, synth arpeggio leads, and general feelings of “epic-ness.” Magnetic Man is big and repetitive and sonically full. Katy B, Ms Dynamite, and John Legend guest on the album to widen the mass appeal, with Katy B and John fucking singing their cerebellums out. Ms Dynamite, on “The Bug,” corner the Nicki Minaj market of hyper-aggressive growling female rapping.

The melodies are always a distinct ascension or descension in a contrived way, which of course means these guys really don’t care for subtly. The only chance I feel these three let their guard down is on the opener “Flying into Tokyo.” Again, we could argue over the contrivance of the track—an obvious Japanese false start, but it’s done with the right amount of taste. There’s almost no dub to be found of “Tokyo,” a steady tempo glockenspiel-led track, backed with Japanese string arrangements. This isn’t the song Magnetic Man’s market will be drawn to, but for whatever reason, they seem to be crafting on this song instead of manufacturing. I could see this song being in a pivotal Lost in Translation scene, and that’s all right by me.

I’ve heard some dubstep I’ve vehemently hated and I’ve heard some that I thought was awfully sharp and well done. Magnetic Man seem to stay away from anything dicey that might not play with a broad audience. To the targeted college Joe Blow, everything is finely tuned to sound immediate, danceable, and large. To a critic, it becomes cumbersome taking the path of least resistance on every melodic turn or every breakdown, but the songs never drift into negative territory. No song is reprehensible high treason against music. And while it’s hard to feel disgusted by anything on this album, there’s also a distinct lack of artistic shading or attention to detail. In other words, Benga never suggested to Skream that they play around with the idea of conventional arrangement or to diversify the aesthetic. Consistently, we’re left with overt demonstrations of Dubstep 101, rather than full artistic ownership. In a sense, one can’t help but wonder, in jest, if a college frat audience wrote these songs and Benga, Skream, and Artwork just pushed the buttons.

The guest stars do add personality and a ‘face’ to the music, which I’m guessing is completely the point. Ms Dynamite’s work on “Fire” is pretty decent, but as with Katy B in “Crossover,” they overstay their welcome. Katy B seems to do the “Crossover” chorus fifteen times, and at some point, we get the idea—leave half of the choruses at home, please. At just over an hour in length, you have to wonder if the general audience has the attention span for an entire album, but it’ll likely be consumed in bits and pieces. Those bits and pieces will be dripping with standard dubstep procedure, a one stop shop for all things dub, broad contrivances be damned.

Track List:
1. Flying into Tokyo
2. Fire
3. I Need Air
4. Anthemic
5. The Bug
6. Ping Pong
7. Perfect Stranger
8. Mad
9. Boiling Water
10. K Dance
11. Crossover
12. Box of Ghosts
13. Karma Crazy
14. Getting Nowhere

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Our Rating

52 / 100
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