Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Skylar Spence – Carousel

[insert “take it for a spin” joke here]


Ryo Miyauchi: The glossy dance-funk evokes a spirit of chillwave from its cut-and-loop production style, inspired by the sample-based school of French touch. But it also comes from the way Skylar Spence carries the track, with an amateurish performance gesturing more to the ideas that make a pop record. His voice is a tinny instrument, more suited to sing casual flirtations than impassioned phrases; you wouldn’t know a key lyric in the chorus — “such a feeling!” — was punctuated by an exclamation point without the lyric video. It doesn’t exactly give it charm to compensate, though the limitations undoubtedly give it distinction.

Alfred Soto: Watery electronic pop with an epicene voice creating momentum. 

Ian Mathers: The more direct pop strain here suits Spence a little better than the more vaporous Saint Pepsi stuff (which wasn’t bad!). When pop this elemental (“basic” feels too perjorative) works it feels like more than the sum of its parts, by which I mean on first listen it seemed dismissible but now it’s stuck in my head.

Julian Axelrod: I discovered Skylar Spence somewhere between 2010 and 2014, when my favorite bands could be charitably described as Nerdy White Guys Discover Disco (see also: Chromeo, Classixx, Holy Ghost!). I look back on that period of my life with a tinge of regret, but I’ve grown and evolved since then. So has Spence: His sound is more smooth and streamlined than I remember, with hooks that sneak up on you and a groove that keeps its hand on the small of your back. The talkbox begs a Daft Punk comparison, but that’s not quite right. While his robotic predecessors used technology as a shortcut to discover human emotion, Spence sounds like a boy let loose in a lovestruck digital wonderland. A song that’s this light on its feet can’t help but achieve liftoff.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: There’s a clear throughline between Hit Vibes and the music that Ryan DeRebortis is now making as Skylar Spence, and it’s heartening to hear him try to capture the joy found in the songs he used to sample. The issue is that it’s much easier to make an amateurish edit of an incredible pop song sound good than it is to make your own incredible pop song. Unsurprisingly, “Carousel” is crafted like one of his edits — crassly, and with limited understanding of what makes the genres he’s working with so good in the first place. There’s no verve to this cheapened disco, and the synthesized bassline exerts the most passionless wobble. This would be endearing if one of my students performed it for a high school talent show, but there’s nothing I find redeeming about this being performed by an adult. Bedroom producers are often at their best when operating in their circumstances creatively, justifying their music as being the specialized product of modest resources. Even if this isn’t the route that’s chosen, one can still thrive given a knack for songwriting and an impressive voice. DeRebortis has neither, and the latter is so grating that it prevents the song from moving past a car-commercial-jingle level of sophistication.

Will Adams: At its best, Skylar Spence’s music is like a smile you can’t hold back, whether from a crush, from unabashed self-confidence or from the almost delirious joy of spinning in circles with someone until the carnival lights blur into streaks of neon. “Carousel” is lighter on the samples and overall more streamlined than Prom King, but there’s still plenty of details to like: the gummy bassline, high synths twittering like bluebirds, the horn section peeking through, and Ryan DeRobertis’s modest but endearing vocal.

Edward Okulicz: “Carousel” is certainly a collection of nice sounds, and one that threatens repeatedly to launch itself into euphoria, but stops at the last minute. That’s only a minor problem, and I think that it might just be a matter of taste. But I know this needed a better singer.

Taylor Alatorre: There’s an endearing tension in nearly all of Skylar Spence’s music: that of the person who isn’t entirely comfortable in their own skin but is gonna try like hell to pretend to be. It’s the kind of front-facing insecurity that can’t be reverse engineered, though it can be painted over with enough effects and reverb. Thankfully, “Carousel” does neither. This is bedroom pop taken out of the bedroom for a day at the state fair, with a handful of self-aware bits (“we rehearsed this line-for-line”) that add depth to the narrative rather than weighing it down. The big dumb bassline acts as a force field against the typical hallmarks of lo-fi electronic: cryptic lyrical fragments, extraneous trap drums, meandering swamps of synth. But the song remains lo-fi in spirit, as DeRobertis’ vocals, for better or worse, will let you know.

Reader average: [9] (1 vote)

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