ALBUM REVIEW: Bassnectar – ‘Noise vs Beauty’

If I were a professional baseball player, this would be my walk-out song ...

June 24th began like Christmas morning for me. With two years of patience and speculation behind us, the VICE-proclaimed Bass-God-On-High Lorin Ashton, aka Bassnectar, delivered his highly-anticipated new album Noise vs Beauty (NVSB). From the beginning, Ashton has promised an intensely varied album, with tracks fitting on a “broad spectrum” between (one can only assume) noise and beauty. What he delivers is just that — a journey through differing sonic landscapes, from high-octane to introspective, each track is enchanting in it’s own way. We believe it to be a thing of creative brilliance.

In the opening track, “F.U.N.”, an elegant piano melody gives way to a cello hanging onto it’s rich, foreboding tones. The swell of the opening track is nothing short of cinematic. “Such elegance,” we think, “has Bassnectar gone soft on us?!” The ensuing drop churns with slow, deliberate pace; it quickly reminds us who we are dealing with. This song is a beautiful interplay of electronic and symphonic element. It is a most excellent opening ceremony for a most excellent album.

We got our first peak into NVSB when Bassnectar released the first single, “Now” featuring Rye Rye. Right away, I knew that this album was going to be massive. This track has quickly joined classics like “Va Va Voom” and “Cozza Frenzy” on my list of Bassnectar’s Most Bangingest Bangers Of All Time. Grimy, lo-fi sirens wailing above an energetic beat build the perfect foundation for Rye Rye to spit some serious heat — “What’s up now? You gotta hold us down. Cuz we out here livin’ the way we wanna now”.

The next track, “Loco Ono”, sounds almost synth poppy when it starts — light and airy with a Vengaboys-esque melody. But then Bassnectar says “…or nah” and we dive into massive layers of über low-end bass that truly brings you to your knees. Although heavy and affected, the beat stays buoyant, choppy and full of that nasty hip-hop edge we love so much.

If you liked Lorin’s take on “Lights” with Ellie Goulding, you’re going to love this one. “You & Me” is 100% certifiable anthem material. This beautiful, atmospheric brand of Bassnectar is perfectly augmented by W. Darling’s soaring, angelic voice. Though the sound is heavy, this track feels like it floats in mid-air.

There are few things in this world that I love more than Bassnectar and the boys of hip-hop duo Zion I together joining forces. Example A: Human. Example B: Teleport Massive. With the help of Fashawn, they come together again on “Lost In The Crowd” and the result is perhaps my favorite collaboration of theirs to date. Synth melodies wander on top of the “bazooka bass so heavy” and Fashawn’s tripped-out vocals add a mischievous edge. The measured, pseudo-minimal feel has been sharpened by the forces of hip-hop, this track has an undeniably sexy groove to it.

Chilling and visceral from the moment it starts, “Ephemeral” is the album’s breath of fresh air. Similar to “Laughter Crescendo”, the deep, driving bass line propels you forward through waves of spacey sound. Songs like this showcase the restraint and intuition Ashton has developed over time. This song is all-encompassing, but never overwhelming. It belongs in the “Beauty” portion of the program.

Ashton stays intergalactic for the next track, “Hold On” (featuring TURSI). TURSI’s effects-laden vocals are soft and inviting while the song builds beautifully underneath, one layer over another. The build drops down into a creeping, steady groove right around the half way mark of the album. Almost as if to say, “We’ve had a moment to breath…but we’re about to turn things back up, are you ready?”

“I DO WHAT I WANNA DO, I DO WHAT I LIKE”. Our title-track “Noise” arrives with a bang. Without a moment’s pause, Donnis drops this mantra in on top of an arena-sized firecracker of a beat. I can close my eyes and picture this track tearing up Red Rocks just a few short weekends ago. It doesn’t get a lot bigger than this. If I were a professional baseball player, this would be my walk-out song FOR SURE.

With “The Future”, Bassnectar and the breathy alto Jenny Sousa deliver another sexy female-driven anthem. This track rivals Zedd and Avicii’s electro-bubble-gum pop ballads with something much more dynamic and unique. (No hate though, “Clarity” literally says it ALL.) The next track, “Open Up” develops this sweeping, cosmic style further and, in a way, feels like the men’s answer to the previous song. Though a bit more abrasive and chopped up, this track raising the stakes a bit.

On “Mystery Song”, our man is accompanied by the spitfire vocalist BEGINNERS and his longtime cohort Amp Live. Ashton taps into the electric-lightning-style energy of The Glitch Mob or The Bloody Beetroots—-and he never lets go. A steady, unflinching beat drives this song along with the force of a freight train. We love the fire that BEGINNERS brings to this track with her defiant, Iconapop-ish sex appeal. The clurbs are really gonna love this one.

This next track is a pretty big deal. The amount of swag on “Don’t Hate The 808” is absolutely shameless and I love every second of it. Lafa Taylor delivers the most important message off the entire album: “I’ve got nothing but love for my haters, but if you try to shut us down you’ll get the Darth Vader”. Sexy, heavy and trappy—this song oozes with the West Coast style that Bassnectar has come to embody. Fave track thus far, no question.

With the aptly named “Gnar”, Bassnectar has managed to once again magically manipulated abrasive sounds into something beautiful and dynamic. Immediately settling into a solid, dirty-south-style beat, this track pushes onwards at a steady clip. It waits for no man. An intricate weaving of churning metallic noises colliding together, this track is shamelessly gnarly. Just basking in it’s own gnar.

“Flash Back” is one of the most exciting tracks on the album. This sexy sound is something brand new and absolutely perfect. We love it when Bassnectar slows it down and this has to be the most sensual track we’ve heard from Lorin in a minute. Is this a love song? We think it could be. I would turn down for this.

Ashton closes this album with the graceful, nostalgic tune “So Butterfly”. With similarities to the 2010 fan-favorite “Butterfly”, this track is delicately crafted and infinitely complex. This redux is sweetly reminiscent of a Bassnectar of yesteryears while also showcasing the skill and precision only apparent in only the most seasoned of producers. Though there is still a low-end presence, the waves of bass take a backseat in this unique groove. This track is a lovely way to say “good night” to Noise vs Beauty.

Perhaps one of the most varied and balanced releases we’ve seen this year, this album showcases the hugely imaginative and ruthlessly progressive talent of Lorin Ashton. Equally important to his career has been his ability to hang on to the style, sound and swagger that made Bassnectar the figure that he is. On this album, he perfectly balances these two elements. One thing is certain, Lorin Ashton has truly mastered the art of collaboration, clearly bringing his signature style as a foundation to each track while showcasing the creative identity of the other artist so well.

Overall, I’d have to say that Noise vs Beauty is for the traditionalists out there that are willing to try something a little bit new. Are there recognizable moments throughout the album? Yeah, there are. But we would be heartbroken if there weren’t.

On the heels of this monumental release, Ashton announced a massive fall tour to bring this album to life. I’m probably preaching to the choir here but just to be sure: **I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of seeing Bassnectar live** I was lucky enough to be at both of his nights at Red Rocks this year and IT WAS MAJOR. Periodically-double-checking-I’m-still-on-Earth type of MAJOR. If you miss your local stop, you’ll be so very sorry and you will have nobody to blame but yourself. Just get the ticket, you deserve it.

Bassnectar 2014 Tour Dates

Oct 3rd – Rochester, NY @ The Main Street Armory
Oct 4th – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
Oct 8th – Portland, ME @ State Theatre
Oct 9th – Burlington, VT @ Memorial Auditorium
Oct 10th – Wallingford, CT @ The Oakdale Theatre
Oct 11th – Lowell, MA @ Tsongas Center at UMASS – Lowell
Oct 15th – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
Oct 16th – Columbus, OH @ Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
Oct 17th – Columbus, OH @ Agora Theater
Oct 18th – Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
Oct 23rd – Baton Rouge, LA @ Baton Rouge River Center
Oct 24th – Austin, TX @ Austin Music Hall
Oct 25th – TBA (“Special Event”)
Oct 28th – St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant
Oct 30th – Kansas City, MO @ The Midland
Oct 31st – TBA (“Special Halloween Event”)
Nov 1st – TBA (“Special Day of The Dead Event” aka I predict Bassnectar will be at LA’s HARD Day of The Dead)
Nov 2nd – TBA (“Special Event”)
Nov 5th – Las Vegas, NV @ Brooklyn Bowl
Nov 6th – Lake Tahoe, NV @ MontBleu Resort Showroom
Nov 7th – Sacramento, CA @ Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
Nov 8th – San Francisco, CA @ Bill Graham Civic Auditorium