Steve Aoki: Wonderland

aoki
Ultra Records/Courtesy


In recent years, Steve Aoki has risen to become a household name in the world of electro house music. Celebrated by ravers and pop crowds alike, Aoki has now managed to build up anticipation even higher than usual with a new album stock-full of exciting collaborations. With the likes of Kid Cudi, LMFAO, and NERVO billed on the record, at first glance it’s difficult to imagine anything other than a massive, dance-fit inducing extravaganza. But in reality, the tracks on the album sound more like dreary dubstep than supercharged dance floor fillers.

Wonderland feels as though a daft DJ has got hold of a malfunctioning synthesizer, and secured some perfunctory guest appearances through connections with well-known performers. For an electro artist of Aoki’s reputation, the beats on the record are shockingly unoriginal. The bass tends not to thump, but drone and is overwhelmed by all kinds of pointless synthesized rackets. Sure, the genre is known for its loose structure and frenetic rhythms, but this is only effective when the artist has manipulated these qualities in compelling ways. Aoki, one gets the sense, is simply filling the airwaves.

And so are most of the collaborators on the record. Kid Cudi provides an uninspired appearance on “Cudi the Kid,” which is unlikely to interest even the most devoted Kid Cudi fans. Meanwhile, LMFAO’s contribution to “Livin’ My Love” is like a necrophiliac’s wet dream: dead and wrong. As the group sings, “Why you killing my buzz?” on the track, one can’t help but return the question right back to them. Elsewhere, the song “Emergency” only serves to confirm that when artists want to ruin a tune, they hire Lil Jon. The crunk specialist wrecks the track by screaming the word “emergency” what feels like at least twelve thousand times.

Nonetheless, there are moments on the album, though far between, where Aoki may be commended for what he’s trying to do, if not what he achieves. The lead track, “Earthquakey People,” nearly cuts it as an electro house hit. The beat is a touch more lively, and Rivers Cuomo provides the only instance on the record of a catchy chorus. This is the tune on the album where the listener flirts with the idea of jumping around, before the urge is thoroughly depressed by some of the tracks that follow. The song “Control Freak” is another decent effort, carried by a bold bass line and strong vocal appearances from Blaqstarr and Kay.

It seems that Steve Aoki has fallen into the trap of collaborations (an easy trap to fall into within the electro pop genre). There are simply too many guest appearances on Wonderland, from Lovefoxx to Chiddy Bang, stripping the album of any musical focus or relevance. Though collaborations can be an effective way of obtaining mass appeal, they must be done shrewdly and tastefully. After all, their purpose is to add to, not detract from, the music. Aoki’s abilities as a musician get lost in the need to cater to fans of artists like Kid Cudi and LMFAO, whose token appearances do nothing for the record.

But even putting ill-advised collaborations aside, Wonderland is an overproduced collection of humdrum beats. Like most current artists of the electro house scene, Steve Aoki seems to be recycling old tricks rather than generating new ground. And despite glimpses of new ideas scattered on the record (notably a dubstep influence), the execution is inescapably predictable and repetitive. Aoki would do better to abandon some of his collaborators, go back to his roots and reinvent his musical appeal.