Steve Aoki – Wonderland
Given that Dim Mak head-honcho Steve Aoki has been in the game for over a decade now, it’d be fair to expect big things from his first full-length album. But unfortunately, Aoki’s debut studio release Wonderland delivers none of the attitude, originality or even fun you’d expect one would have no problem channeling after more than ten years experience producing and DJing.
That’s disappointing, because there was definite hope for Wonderland in the beginning. Opening with the album’s first single, Earthquakey People, you can tell Aoki was going for: energetic and fun electro-house that isn’t high-brow but isn’t bad, either. The following track, Ladi Dadi, featuring vocals from Wynter Gordon is a similar story – a decent, albeit generic, commercial dance tune. But while neither of these songs are particularly offensive, they lack appeal and just aren’t catchy enough to succeed in the way Aoki is aiming for.
From there, unfortunately, it’s mostly downhill. Grating brostep breakdowns and overbearing synth feature on many of the tracks: Emergency shoots itself in the foot with the appearance from Lil Jon, whose yelling vocals are akin to someone screaming, on repeat, through a megaphone. Steve Jobs isn’t a track die for, Cudi the Kid is pretty painful and The Kids Will Have Their Say is little more than a screeching, aural assault.
However, Heartbreaker, featuring vocals from CSS’s Lovefoxxx, is an enjoyable, downbeat electro-pop tune and the team-up track with LMFAO and Nervo, Livin My Love really isn’t as bad as you’d expect. Come With Me, featuring Polina is a decent club track with a driving beat and the very audible snort at 2:30 that somehow slipped past the keen ears in post-production provides welcome comic relief.
Of course, it’s important to note that Aoki hasn’t set out to break innovative musical ground here – Wonderland isn’t a pretentious release and it doesn’t lay claim to being anything more than party-themed, high-energy tracks. The problem, however, is that the album doesn’t even succeed on that level. While the inoffensive tunes just fail to make an impression, the finger tends to hover over the skip button for much of the album.
With the collaborations that add a ‘featuring’ credit to every single track, the album feels more like a name-drop of who’s who in commercial dance today than a genuine stab at creating something enjoyable. Perhaps that was part of the problem – having to make room on every track for a different guest star seems to have derailed any consideration to how the album works as a whole. The result, of course, is that it hasn’t worked.
It’s not that Aoki isn’t skilled at what he does. Over the years, he’s rightfully cemented his status as a prominent leader of the electro scene and Dim Mak is an important label. It’s just disappointing that he didn’t try harder to deliver more with Wonderland.
Wonderland is out in Australia through Liberator on Friday 3 February.