The cover of GRiZ’s Mad Liberation shows two men floating out of a dark, forbidding unknown. They’re entering a mystical city: simultaneously ancient and futuristic. They might be returning home, or they might be discovering this utopia for the first time; it’s hard to tell. The artwork is exceptionally well done: detailed, subtlety colorful, and extensive. On a basic level, this cover raises the bar for what electronic musician’s albums should look like. (Most of the time they’re simply designs or concepts, often incorporating shapes and the artist’s name somehow.) But listen to the album and then give Liberation’s visual component another look, a longer moment of contemplation. Notice anything? If not, that’s okay, but trust me when we say the parallel between the two is startling. Whether this was a conscious effort or not, this smart, well done cover paints a bigger picture – no pun intended – of what GRiZ is about to do to the world of EDM. Let me explain:
Mad Liberation is 12-track, independently produced LP from Grant Kwiecinski, a 21-year-old Detroit native whose sparse remixes began increasing his stock close to 12 months ago. Recently, This Song Is Sick founder Nick Guarino noticed Kwiecinski’s growing portfolio and signed on as the producer’s personal manger. The sharp, well-focused tracks featured on GRiZ’s SoundCloud also showed up on the radar a few big players. It wasn’t long until Kwiecinski went from house parties in Michigan to opening for some of today’s most respected acts. He mastered social networking, too. While Tweeting pals like Big Gigantic, Michal Menert, and Gramatik, GRiZ was able to not only become verified, but also build the biggest and most intense hype for any album this year (so far). And then the album was delayed, several times, which, of course, only perpetuated the hype. (Mad Liberation was initially scheduled to drop in April.) He postponed the release until after the summer festival season, which he did dip his toes in and showcase material off of Liberation all across the country. But, finally, GRiZ’s debut effort was unveiled and with it the world was given the most complete, diverse, groundbreaking, and important body of electronic music since 2010’s My Name Is Skrillex.
This album won’t receive as much attention as Skrillex’s first EP did, but that’s understandable. Sonny pioneered a sound never heard before. It was novel and magnificent, as if the violent glitching and sporadic sampling that now functions as a clear example of how important EDM can be to our music industry and broader culture was ripped from the sky and thrown in our faces without a single moment to stop and contemplate what just happened. Mad Liberation, on the other hand, is important because it demonstrates GRiZ’s complete and utter mastery of electronic music. This album will not be remembered because of a highly specific and revolutionary sound, but because it official marks the point in American electronic music’s relatively brief history when we can finally reflect on what has happened. We understand subgenres, trends, and movements and where they came from. Our culture is still young enough to seem fresh and exciting, but just old enough to have a traceable history. And GRiZ understands this better than anyone else. He seems like a fan first and foremost, but one with musical abilities that are almost unsurpassed. Mad Liberation is a tribute album that redefines what a modern-day EDM LP should be.
It opens with “Too Young For Tragedy.” Lo-fi synths circa 1990 build up and patiently escalate, never over indulging or reaching a point of chaos. Layer after layer is added until, nearly 3 minutes in, it reaches a point where the impending drop feels completely natural; you’re begging for it but know that it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. The drop itself is wonderful, too. Distorted synths grind against each other as comparisons to Skrillex are inevitably made. But it never sacrifices its musicality. Kwiecinski understands a drop should be (read: has to be) more than a mashing of intense wobbles. It needs to continue the flow of a song, advance it in the direction it was already headed. Such is demonstrated perfectly on the next track, “Smash The Funk,” which actually reached #1 on Hype Machine when he released it as a single earlier this month. It has a distinct Dillon Francis vibe during the song’s peak in energy, but its smoothness before and after the drop is what resonates. It’s addictingly suave as spacey melodies accompany a simple but refined saxophone. It’s hard to articulate, but “Smash The Funk” is one of those tracks that latches onto your consciousness and refuses to let go. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard, and when it ends at the 6:50 mark, it’ll feel as if the air was sucked from your lungs.
But then “Rock N Roll” begins. In the first two tracks on Mad Liberation, GRiZ demonstrates a respect and understanding of both Francis and Skrillex, while taking their respective sounds and making it his own. This time, with a pounding 1-2 jazzy sample, he choses to honor Gramatik. Unlike the two openers, “Rock N Roll” never drops. Neither does “Mr. B” or “Fall In Love Too Fast,” which come later on the LP and both emit a certain Gramatik feel as well. (That might be directly related to the bit of vibrant musicality each obtain thanks to Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli and guitarist Dan Hacker, respectively.)
“Blastaa” is what you’re going to write home about. It comes 20 minutes into the LP and functions as a declaratory statement: “My fucking name is GRiZ and you best believe I’m here to stay.” There’s no if, ands, or buts about this tune. It unveils itself early and hard; pounding the most spectacularly melodious drop since, well, maybe ever. And then, somehow, without fracturing the vibe, he transitions to a harmonious and soulful meander. Shivers will shoot down your spine. You’ll feel life and emotion in parts of your body you didn’t think you could. And then, BOOM, right back to the bass. This track, which is reflective of the album as a whole, is a story. It’s not satisfied with simply being. It’s an arc; a journey. And GRiZ is one hell of a captain.
A part of me wants to simply go through the rest of this album, describing every progressive and awe-inspiring sound Kwiecinski is somehow able to conjure, but that’s not the point of this piece. I didn’t want it to be an album review — although it inevitable has to be in some capacity. I want this to be a declarative statement. I want—no, need—you to understand what barriers were knocked down with the production of Mad Liberation. It’s as if GRiZ is a EDM blogger’s test tube experiment. A pinch of Skrillex, a dash of Big Gigantic’s soul, Gramatik’s jazz, and Dillon Francis’ chaos, framed with Daft Punk’s patience, Pretty Lights’ flow, and the shock factor of Bassnectar. POW! You’ve got GRiZ.
Perhaps this is why this article is being published two weeks behind its release. It’s only after countless replays (which clearly took me over 14 days) that the innumerable influences flesh themselves out; the diversity of every sound he creates, in relation to the rest of the album and within an individual track, becomes apparent; and the scope of what GRiZ has done is comprehendible. It would simply be inappropriate to discuss something this monumental any sooner. And this is when it comes full circle. As demonsrated by the Mad Liberation‘s cover, we have been in a black abyss for so long, with radically-specific genres and trends defining electronic music. This album is the light. This album is the mystical city we, the listener, are floating up to, discovering for the first time. It’s ancient, but incredibly astounding.
Just the other day, GRiZ took to his Facebook: “Being an electronic music artist, I feel like there is lots of pressure to make high volumes of new music [and] to keep up with the sheer masses of daily new music on top of … maintaining a fresh live performance what with rigorous touring and shows,” he said. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that within the scope of my goals as a producer / performer I only want to make worthwhile music that has some staying power… Taking everything step by step and not getting ahead of myself. Keeping music musical. And that’s what’s on my mind.” This, my friends, is the only type of musician who could create something this groundbreaking. You need patience. You need values. You need to know where you’re headed. GRiZ has this all. And GRiZ will change electronic music for good.
– Wes Judd
Listen to and download Mad Liberation below.