Skrillex – Quest For Fire / Don’t Get Too Close

Now over a decade removed from his first major breakthrough – and the subsequent EDM and dubstep boom in the pop sphere that faded away just as quickly as it began – DJ and producer Skrillex has been hard at work proving that he’s a lot more than another gimmicky moment in the annals of pop culture. Producing some of pop’s biggest smash hits and linking up with acts like Justin Bieber, Juice WRLD and Beyonce, even dating back to his time as the frontman of post-hardcore band From First To Last, Skrillex has always known how to draw attention across a wide variety of sounds and genres. While he hasn’t released an album of his own since 2014’s dubstep-infused Recess, he figured to make up for lost time by releasing two albums on back-to-back days – one that feels like an updated version of his old sound, as he links up with other forward-thinking producers and experiments with club-ready beats, and another with a more star-studded guest list as he shrinks back into pop producer mode. While the latter is mostly formulaic and misguided, Quest for Fire stands out as a truly great time.

Despite Quest For Fire’s opening track “Leave Me Like This” presenting one of the brightest sounding melodies – it’s quite reminiscent of his track “Where Are U Now” with Justin Bieber – Skrillex still lets listeners know what they’re in for with some extended bass notes, vocal samples previewing drops, complex drum patterns and a low end that echoes like no one else in his field. It sounds like Skrillex is revving up the engines, as he combines some knocking club beats with his penchant for shimmering, pristine melodies. On the other hand, we haven’t seen Skrillex intersect with much hip-hop before, but a feature from none other than Missy Elliott changes that on “RATATA,” Missy dropping her famous line from “Work It” amidst some new verses as Skrillex highlights her playful flow patter with more overpowering bass and a synth tone with a Middle Eastern flair. We also see grime rapper Flowdan on “Rumble,” a collab with Fred Again.. that does lose energy in a couple places behind a slightly grating chipmunked central melody, but it’s still exhilarating to hear a deep-voiced MC take command of one of Skrillex’s wild beats – this one featuring a litany of gun noises. It does seem like Skrillex was inspired by the UK scene, essentially crafting his version of a drill beat on “Tears,” another one that goes hard and never lets up. The first half is capped off by some more standard club beats containing one impressively creative element each – “Butterflies” suddenly morphs into a section of wildly cascading chimes that feels like it’s right out of the 100 gecs playbook near its conclusion, while “Inhale Exhale” features fuzzy percussion hits that make it sound like Skrillex is threatening to break the speakers.

The track “A Street I Know” offers a bit of a break with some more calming energy before we get right back into it with “XENA.” Featuring Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti and sung in Arabic, it’s incredibly cool to hear her unique singing style – especially with harmonies – combined with a big club beat. Then, Skrillex drops the most whiplash-inducing and complex beat pattern on the whole project, introduced by screams that get increasingly more panicked. The track is an experience that every electronic fan needs to have. “Hydrate” is another easy late-album highlight, with an opening passionate verse from BEAM and Flowdan returning to make even better use of the grimy bass notes with some relentless flows. The tracks “Good Space” and “Supersonic (my existence)” both ascend into an appropriately cosmic zone, the former featuring vocal chops and a drum n’ bass breakdown and the latter containing some blown out siren sounds as the drop, a mindbending sound that fits with the more contemplative tone of the lyrics. Although it’s another very fun, high-octane banger with a creative second half as Skrillex throws everything into the mix and it still somehow works, “TOO BIZARRE (juked)” almost feels like it belongs on the companion album with its Swae Lee feature, dropping clunky lyrics and a standard performance for him. The 5-minute “Still Here (with the ones that I came with)” finds Skrillex closing things out with a Porter Robinson collaboration, which extends a little too long with similar motifs but functions nicely as a final celebration of his longevity in the game.

To indicate the shift in sound, Don’t Get Too Close kicks off with the same song that opened the other album, with a slightly different title and a spacier, brighter and poppier mix. The first new voice that we hear is Trippie Redd on the song “Way Back,” a brief and hyperpop-infused song that also invites PinkPantheress into her wheelhouse. With her laid-back and cool attitude and her breathy and infectious tone, she takes over the track – Trippie Redd can’t measure up from a vocal standpoint, but the melody he grasps at is catchy enough that it doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately, it feels like most of the time Skrillex sinks into the background elsewhere. “Selecta” is a boring dancehall track with BEAM that has nothing that distinguishes it as a Skrillex track – it feels like most of the guests here are just trying to fill the space like you’re supposed to on a DJ’s song, but Skrillex didn’t get the memo to be interesting and make up for it, retreating back into the mode of a reliable, veteran producer. His treatment of Kid Cudi, one of the most recognizable and influential artists in the world, on “Summertime” is truly bizarre, as he drowns him out and overproduces everything on a track without much structure – it doesn’t sound like whatever they were working on in their session together was finished, but he wanted to include a big name.

The project’s first half also contains back-to-back tracks featuring Drain Gang affiliates – “Ceremony” has some fun rap verses from Yung Lean, while Bladee’s emo inflections add a nice touch to the pop-rap sound, but “Real Spring” pushes it even further into exuberant bubblegum trap, Bladee now taking a solo track with some whiny melodies that don’t go anywhere. It sounds like a freestyle that Skrillex tried to make sound as pristine and crystallized as he could, but he didn’t get a lot to work with. It’s not nearly as obnoxious as the track “Bad For Me,” however. Corbin pushes the emo inflections to their breaking point with some truly insipid lyrics, while Chief Keef offers a totally checked-out rap verse that finds him meowing. It’s all set to synth tones that sound like they’re from Lil Dicky’s “Earth.” Before a decent closing track offering a melodic rap spin on the celebratory Porter Robinson collab that closed Quest By Fire, “3am” is the last good track we hear. Mixing together 15-year-old hyperpop artist Prentiss and post-hardcore frontman Anthony Green, the layered harmonies and pitched-up chorus over some big beats and eerie energies make for a fascinating mix. As far as the bigger guests, Justin Bieber appears on “Don’t Go” alongside Don Toliver – his voice can get highly annoying and nasal when it isn’t applied to a great song, and this one is mostly pop-trap blandness, with some off-key falsetto notes. Swae Lee does the bare minimum again on “Mixed Signals,” but the title track almost feels like parody as Bourelly and Skrillex himself sing about going to school and parents hating them, the melody and beat totally disjointed.

While it’s made clear over the course of these two albums that Skrillex can still be stuck in the past in some truly unfortunate ways, luckily, for the most part he’s learned to evolve with the times. He’s managed to stay relevant all this time because he’s loaded with talent – both for hits and experimentation. Let’s hope we see a little more of the latter in the future.

Quest For Fire:

Favourite Tracks: XENA, RATATA, Hydrate, Leave Me Like This, Butterflies

Least Favourite Track: Rumble

Score: 8/10

Don’t Get Too Close:

Favourite Tracks: Way Back, Ceremony, 3am

Least Favourite Track: Don’t Get Too Close

Score: 4/10


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