Dim Mak, Steve Aoki’s insurgent EDM label, is an odd place to find an artist that got their start in a hardcore punk band that named Refused, No Flag, and the Mars Volta as influences. But that’s nonetheless the label Felix Cartal calls home, and his most recent album, Next Season, represents the apotheosis of his shift as a musician.
Even his previous albums under the name Felix Cartal had a different sound. 2010’s Popular Music was a dirty electronic record, the beats swift and unrelenting. EDM’s characteristic and oft-demanded drops hadn’t yet calcified in the pop-music imagination, so what we got was a record more at home in a dank European discotek than a rave-trodden American field.
Far from the earnest, sweat-soaked hardcore scene, Cartal’s Next Season nestles easily in a pristine, immaculately produced EDM culture. It’s no less earnest and sweat-soaked for it though. Between the gauntlet of guest artists and Cartal’s throbbing beats, precipitous drops, and hungover ballads, there’s a lot to love here. Some parts of the album left me wanting, but Next Season, a clear nod to Cartal’s changing sound, is a skillfully produced, fun EDM record that will do its job unerringly–it will make you dance.
Next Season starts out with “Stop Being Yourself,” a linguistic sucker punch of a title and, for that matter, a verse. Gabrielle Current guides us through the verse and bridge, her voice tender, fluid. She sings, “Keep me in boxes/Leavin’ me locked in/They’re really saying/’Don’t be you,'” a call for individuality that flirts with being on the nose. A few bars later, we hear her echoing the voice of the mob, “Just give up/No need to exist,” not a call for literal suicide as such, but for the death of individuality.
One dropped beat later breaks the thematic cage, setting us–and the listener vibing along–free.
The next major beat on the album is “Down For You,” featuring Veronica, an emerging artist from Toronto, Canada. The song breaks with the first chunk of the album substantially, introducing some acoustic guitar and focusing heavily on Veronica’s vocal performance. Six songs in, it’s a welcome change for anyone listening to the album cover-to-cover.
Lyrically, “Down For You” breaks significantly with the EDM cliché, the insistence of eternal triumph, never coming down from the last high, always ascending. Aside from being a welcome change of pace on Next Season in isolation, “Down For You” breaks the taxing work of always searching for the next big high, and the next dizzying drop afterward. “I’m down for you/Cause I’m feelin’ high/Can you take me low/” and its theamatic couplet “Every time you come around/You sing the same old tunes/And everybody’s talkin’ ’bout how you only love you” could be addressed at a stagnating musical moment for EDM.
“Everything Is Fine,” a minor toned number featuring REGN and her dark-timeline cheerleader chant of the title, articulates the same fatigue. “Listen/let me in your head/Within/Carve a space that I can live in/And begin again” takes the metaphor of a romantic relationship–familiar vocabulary for EDM songs–and works it into a criticism, if a loving one.
My personal favorite song on the album is “Runaway,” again featuring REGN. “Runaway” feels like a direct answer to “Everything is Fine,” as REGN laments, “I hid behind a cheap facade/Yeah I sing a couple oohs and aahs.” One “fuck it” later, and she’s a runaway. The whole song is a burn track at a nebulous “them,” but given the context of the album there’s a clear target–a scene.
It’s almost impossible not to enjoy listening to Next Season through it’s 18-track onslaught of crisp beats, pristine production, and strong vocal performances. I found myself, though, wanting Cartal to take more risks. For an album whose central premise seems to be frustration at a scene on the verge of–or even in the midst of–stagnation, Next Season doesn’t give as big a “fuck it” as REGN might suggest. More tonal variation and some more complex lyricism for the already strong vocalists would go a long way. Fitting that into a still-accessible package in the format would be a challenge, but one I’m confident Felix Cartal is up to.
Still, I think the album holds up not just in isolation, but as an album within the context of a greater EDM scene. Cartal produced a colossus here, and I’m looking forward to more of his work! His skill and talent speak for themselves. Listen to the whole album below!