Porter Robinson is known for his consistent innovation in electronic music. The producer always strays outside the norms of mainstream dance music, and his work under “Virtual Self” is a thorough representation of just that. With the release of “Eon Break” a month back and “Ghost Voices” following a few weeks later, we had a hint of the direction this new alias would take for Porter.
Much of the material reminisces way back, to a time as far as when Porter was still unknown and producing music for games like Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up. “Eon Break” cleared the way for this new direction, with a sound that had the clear intention of harkening back to DDR-like music. However, “Ghost Voices” went in another direction entirely, with a style described as neotrance, suggesting anything was possible for the remainder of the EP. Three more new tracks were set to be released on the EP, each bringing unique and meaningful ideas to the project.
The EP begins with “Particle Arts,” one of my personal favorites of the three released after “Ghost Voices.” The song begins with a gentle piano intro that swells into a more orchestral feeling as the intro goes on. Surrounding the instrumental is a soft voice saying “Remember? It’s the beating of your heart they really want.” Just past the 30-second mark, we hear the strong synth lead that characterizes the drop and much of the rest of the song. This track sees a return to the DDR-style we first had hints of on “Eon Break,” but still stands on its own as a unique piece. Around the 1:40 mark, we reach a break, returning to the piano and orchestral feelings of the intro. But not even a minute later, the build returns to the empowering melody of the drop. Throughout the work, the same soft voice continuously repeats the line “Remember?” closing softly with the words “Lately, I’ve been hearing the cries of angels when I close my eyes” and the constant reprise of “Remember?” closing on a profound and thought-provoking note.
Next, on the EP, we get to revisit “Ghost Voices.” The genre is described by Porter Robinson himself as “neotrance,” which seems very suitable for the feeling of the track. The style of the drums and overall theme of the EP take a noticeable shift at this point. Throughout the song are vocals singing “sometimes” and “some days,” giving a certain sense of progression not heard in “Particle Arts.” The melodies feel very different as well but still, keep their place at the stronghold built by Porter’s new alias. Next comes another neotrance number, but one with stark contrasts to “Ghost Voices.” “a.i.ngel (Become God)” does an excellent job of bringing us into the middle of Porter’s journey as Virtual Self. It is much more obviously trance-oriented than “Ghost Voices,” with signs like a tempo more common in trance and synths that wander much like common melodic trance synths do. The piece takes a bit more time to build its way up to the main melody, with hints of it throughout but steady non-melodic beats surrounding the first couple minutes. A bit past two minutes in, the direction of the song is clear, and the trance melody progresses its way to fruition. By three and a half minutes, the melodic drop is in full force and surrounds the listener with feelings more common to trance music. The voice in this song takes a couple opportunities to make the strong statement “And so I’ve become God,” but the undertones feel less like a religious statement and more spiritual and empowering.
Next on the tracklist is “Key,” which takes us back to the themes first brought up in “Eon Break.” The song immediately dives into its primary melody, which feels very much like a production by Porter Robinson. In some ways, it feels like a mild reminder of “Shelter” and Porter’s role in that collaboration. Just as the song seems to be coming to a close a bit past two minutes, the melody is derived and followed by the incredibly fast and powerful drums heard in the second drop of “Eon Break,” making the song a much more notable piece as part of the whole EP than just a stylistic reminder of how Porter Robinson has evolved over the years. The EP ends with “Eon Break,” which still stands as my personal favorite so far from the Virtual Self alias. “Eon Break” was the first departure from the Porter we’ve come to know, and at the same time, it was a triumphant return for the producer. Stylistic elements from his DDR days are immediately obvious, but the song manages to offer a great deal more than that. The melody and first drop roots the song in 2017 and modern electronic music, but the feeling from the track brings us into what feels like a different time and place. All of the themes heard throughout the EP lead to this moment, emotionally swell with the first drop, and peak with the incredibly climactic second drop. The term “happy hardcore” does absolutely no justice to the drums and speed of the second drop, which bursts with raw emotion and power that we hardly ever come across in electronic and dance music today. Unbelievable, unimaginable and starkly unique to a man of Porter Robinson’s talent are only some of the feelings I can put into words for this song and the EP it completes.
The journey of Virtual Self has only just begun, and Porter’s first show under the alias remains to be seen. One can only speculate about what Robinson will bring to this phase of his renowned live performances.
Listen to the EP below:
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