Album review: Nero, "Welcome Reality" - Reverb

Album review: Nero, “Welcome Reality”

Nero, “Welcome Reality” (MTA/Cherrytree/Interscope/Mercury)

The British DJ-producers who concocted dubstep over the past decade have watched from afar as America suddenly discovered what irregular jolts of deep, wobbly bass can do to a dance floor. American dubstep, which trades the ominous hollows and slithering undercurrents of the British version for a kind of exuberant rope-a-dope assault, is having its bandwagon moment here; Skrillex, its most visible figure, was just nominated for a Grammy award as best new artist. In the meantime, Britons are already talking about post-dubstep.

For Nero — the London production duo Dan Stephens and Joe Ray, regularly joined by singer Alana Watson — that means transplanting dubstep from club set to album sequence and from the onetime thrills of the dance floor to the melodies and repeatability of pop. “Welcome Reality,” which was released in Britain in August and here last week, does exactly that without losing dubstep’s implacable core. At least most of the time.

“Welcome Reality” is nearly as nostalgic as it is futuristic. The music flaunts vintage synthesizers and echoes of dance-music past: the raw swoops of early-1990s rave, the arpeggios of synth-pop, the string-section jabs of disco, even some 1980s rock-anthem guitar. Late in the album “Reaching Out” suddenly features a familiar voice: none other than Daryl Hall. But the old sounds are no refuge from dubstep, with its sudden switches into a viscous half-speed and its falling-through-a-trapdoor bass lines.

“Welcome Reality” has a kind of narrative arc, with Watson playing the role of a woman falling in love: flirting, yearning, offering, recriminating, reconciling. The situations are pop — “Get a feeling I can’t hide/It’s up to you if we’re gonna do this tonight,” she sings in “My Eyes” — but her voice is piping and a little desperate, and nearly all the songs are in foreboding minor keys. “Right from the start you’ve always made me feel a fool,” is one of the many accusations in “Guilt,” which starts with sustained synthesizers and white-noise whooshes out of trance music. Yet when it’s about to perk up and head for the dance floor, a buzz-bomb bass line keeps it at the pace of a dirge instead.

That’s dubstep as cunning sabotage, and Nero keeps finding ways to accomplish it. Even the album’s tackiest track — “Crush on You,” emulating the staccato synthesizers and chirpy vocals of early Madonna — has to contend with a proudly intrusive distorted bass line. “Welcome Reality” pulls dubstep toward the arena-pop spotlight without leaving its shadows behind. –Jon Pareles, the New York Times

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