The last few months have boasted a fair amount of impressive album releases from various artists populating the EDM scene. From up-and-coming sensation Porter Robinson’s spellbinding debut Worlds, and deadmau5’s epic While (1<2), some of the most lauded names in the industry are peppering store shelves and iTunes carts with fresh new releases. Today, another of EDMs heavy-hitters joins the party, as raft-riding and cake-tossing DJ Steve Aoki’s sophomore studio album, Neon Future, sees its release.
It’s tough to build flow in an album when there are only 10 songs, but when you factor in that Neon Future, Aoki’s second foray into the more commercial studio album game, features an ambitious intro and outro track (cutting the total track length to a paltry eight), the task becomes that much more difficult. Unfortunately, the DJ’s sophomore effort falls short in its aspiration to resemble an album, instead slipping into a musical purgatory and becoming nothing more than a sum of its own parts.
Once the two-minute intro track, Transcendence, finishes, Aoki’s compilation presents two choppy efforts – Neon Future (featuring Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun) and Back to Earth (featuring Fall Out Boy) – that both seem disjointed. While different in tone, the vocals in each merely seem thrown onto a relatively standard Aoki big-room drop, resulting in little more than a mash-up. Neon Future’s attempt at a harmonious mood never quite gets there, as the seemingly ‘copy and pasted’ vocals deter from the feel. Back to Earth provides more of this uninspired collaboration, seemingly laying in a generic Fall Out Boy vocal over a once-again very familiar Aoki backdrop.
The subsequent two offerings, Born to Get Wild and Rage the Night Away, feature will.i.am and Waka Flocka Flame, respectively, and delve into a more rambunctious territory. Though they provide few, if any, new elements to the actual sound of the music, the fun and upbeat style of this pair of tracks could very well become staples of a Steve Aoki live set.
The sixth track on the album almost seems like a throwaway, in that it is Boneless (a prior release featuring Chris Lake and Tujamo), which features a Kid Ink vocal layover. There’s not much to say about this one, as it’s technically been out for a while, but I personally liked it better sans-vocals (no offence to Kid Ink).
The final three tracks are where this album picks up steam. Free the Madness – featuring Machine Gun Kelly – is a pretty fun and bouncy tune, showcasing Aoki’s apparent ability to subtly flirt with different styles. The vocals take a back-seat to the song, while the drop itself has a pretty raucous kick. The pacing remains quick and tight throughout, maintaining a driving feel from start to finish.
Afroki, featuring Afrojack and the harmonious voice of Bonnie McKee, is highlighted by strong vocals from the aforementioned singer, which are underscored by a light, yet powerful synth build that culminates with a similarly uplifting drop. Like the previous track, the pacing doesn’t let up and the vocals and peak suggest it could be a rather nice way for Aoki to consider ending future sets.
The album’s final track (a ninety-second outro carries us to the end of the album), Get Me Out of Here, gets my nod for “Song of the Album.” Lending a hand is purveyor of dubstep and lasers Flux Pavilion, and the two craft a surprisingly interesting camaraderie on the song. A delicate introduction is quickly forgotten as a simple vocal sample is weaved through Flux’s trademark sound – resulting in by far the most interesting and smooth release on Neon Future.
All in all, Aoki’s sophomore release doesn’t necessarily slump, but it doesn’t reach its full potential either. It’s easily apparent that Steve Aoki is willing and able to vacillate between genres, tinkering with different sounds and adapting to the sound of the moment. Unfortunately for Neon Future though, it ultimately succumbs to familiar territory for EDM album releases – written off as merely a collaboration of party anthems. That being said, the latter third of the album boasts some pretty party friendly material, highlighted by strong vocals and creative production, and for that alone I’d suggest checking it out if you’re into this particular DJ’s music.
While not his best work, Neon Future is still a decent release from Steve Aoki that includes some strong tracks that make it worth checking out for fans of the DJ.