Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Lindsey Stirling ft. Elle King – The Upside

The upside? Your song made it onto the Jukebox! The downside? Uh, well…


Will Rivitz: What a difference seven years makes, huh? At her peak, Lindsey Stirling presided over a YouTube whose electronic music community was defined by its entropy and lawlessness, an environment in which halfdecentlyproduced brostep could come out of nowhere to change the course of electronic music’s next four or five years solely on the strength of its novelty and the indiscriminate, capricious obsessions of teenagers not yet part of an environment fully bent to Insomniac‘s will. “Crystallize,” by today’s standards, is not particularly well-made, but its g̶i̶m̶m̶i̶c̶k̶ iconoclasm was able to take root in a place where there was no one dominant mode of festival EDM, no Illenium or riddim, by which all other up-and-comers are judged. Yet here we are in 2019, where EDC and the like have, er, crystallized that same EDM into a more rigid mode, where there’s both such a glut of well-made and innovative new music as well as such an established business strategy for determining what sorts of artists and trends tsunami into mainstream consciousness that there’s simply no space for a “Sierra Leone” or an “Eyes on Fire” to succeed despite its amateurishness. On the one hand, EDM’s transition from spontaneity to market-researched strategy hamstrings its further development; reports of the scene’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, but I worry its focus-grouped stagnation will continue to leach its life until it’s a wasted husk of what it could have been without big-budget intervention. On the other hand, in light of production values across the board taking leaps and bounds forward since “Crystallize,” there’s absolutely no reason “The Upside” should sound like its non-violin bits were produced by a fifteen-year-old with a cracked copy of FL Studio they downloaded four months ago.

Will Adams: Kudos to Stirling for maintaining a career based on a gimmick with as short a half life as “classical-violin-meets-electronic-music” for nearly a decade, I guess, but “The Upside” feels almost unabashedly cynical. As cheesy as the dubstep trinkets were, they knew well enough to keep Stirling front and center, even when guest vocalists were involved. Here she’s completely covered up in the mix, and even worse, what’s covering her up is cheap, dated electro.

Katie Gill: It is SO DAMN WEIRD that Lindsey Stirling feels like a featured artist on her own track. I can only suspect that it’s done that way because her more violin-heavy work is never going to get radio airplay, while “The Upside” feels designed to get that potential Billboard pop charts placement in the most generic EDM copycat way possible.

Kylo Nocom: Elle King woefully gives up her dumb blues schtick (anybody hear that “My Neck, My Back” cover?) to end up sounding like Halsey on a Tap Tap Revolution song.

Thomas Inskeep: Elle King is done no favors by either the 2016 EDM structure of “The Upside” (look! a drop!) or the effects used on her voice, which is strong and doesn’t need them. Stirling’s violin is barely audible; she’s going for that Zedd money here. I doubt she’ll get it with an effort this weak.

Alfred Soto: That’s one crazy violin, and for a full minute juxtaposing it against the perfunctory programmed beat strikes me as fascinating. 

Tim de Reuse: Dense, hypercompressed pop designed to sound like something you probably heard playing in a convenience store in 2015, but with the energy cranked so high it’s hard to follow. Note the wild twisting of the bassline, the way Stirling’s violin lives in some half-synth half-acoustic netherworld, and the snare drum that hits with the impact of an airlock suddenly being opened into the vacuum of space. It does its job too well — one listen feels like five or six climactic build-drop sequences in a row. My hypothesis is that this is the music you make when you start from the premise that most people are just listening to endless streams of audio fed to them by a inscrutable, lovecraftian Spotify algorithm and so the only way to get people to recognize a single, discrete tune through the blur is through physical exhaustion.

Vikram Joseph: It’s quite a feat of assimilation to incorporate an electric violin hook which sounds like a pack of wild horses pounding across the plains so seamlessly into a straightforward pop-house track. If anything, it assimilates too hard — although the violin reasserts itself strongly in the instrumental bridge, if you close your eyes this could be a slightly better-than-average Clean Bandit song, which is… fine, I guess.

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