The last time we met was thirteen months ago. It was late September 2012, and a much buzzed about young producer named GRiZ debuted Mad Liberation, a remarkable synthesis of an album that ended up being what I deemed the year’s best electronic release. It was funk, bass, and bombastic rhythm balled up into a hypnotic explosion of sound; it seemed impossible that one brain was responsible for something that merged styles of so many distinctive producers.
A year later, we’ve caught GRiZ as an artist in the midst of young success. He’s been rotating between tours, festivals, and interviews like a professional, all the while his stock growing. “That live aspect started for me this past year. Going from playing for a group of ten kids in a basement to, like, thousands and thousands of kids at proper venues,” Grant says in the narration of his “Smash the Funk” music video.
His sophomore LP, Rebel Era, comes nearly a year later. It has been said that to properly gauge a musician’s talent, look to the release that follows their first hit. In many ways, Rebel Era embodies what was so great about Mad Liberation, which makes sense. This is a producer who, although in Internet time is well on his way to solidifying a niche in electronic music, is still quite green. On that note, this album is not a massive statement of experimentation of boundary-pushing. From start to finish, the GRiZ seal is imprinted onto every track; there is no mistaking who produced it. But while the general theme remains unchanged, there are incredibly impressive leaps in detail and perspective.
Most notable is Grant’s patience. He has become more self-aware of his sound, developing an innate sense of when to restrain himself and when to explode. He is unafraid to extend tracks to seven or eight minutes. “Keep The Dream Alive”, which in fact just breaches nine, exemplifies what this patient approach is capable of. While it has plenty of energy and glitch, you are never able to shake the notion that it is a delicate track. Grant oscillates between soul and electro, jazz and bass, complimenting every stretch of intensity with a moment for contemplation. While many producers break up bouts of high energy with a placid moment to breathe, it feels as if GRiZ is taking several breaths—maybe even a walk. He is a patient producer and asks the same of his listener. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and perhaps directly because of these lengthy spells of passivity, his epic blasts of funk and bass have real emotional power.
There are entire tracks that function in this same way but in respect to the album as a whole. The appropriately titled “Simple”, which features Lawrence, Kansas-based The Floozies, is the gentle breeze in this thunderstorm of an LP. It employs a punctuated keyboard and muted, funky guitar tones to convey a sense of gentle movement. It is the breath of fresh air, and although it may get skipped when listening to Rebel Era at party, it’s a huge testament to GRiZ’s understanding of acoustic narrative.
More attention has also been paid to individual instrumentation on this album. The electric guitar is as common as GRiZ’s saxophone—it is a consistent force on Rebel Era, and sometimes even battles the sax for the spot light. The quality of sound is quite impressive, too. It seems very well mastered; its singular sonic elements are lush, new, round, and wonderful. Grant has reconstructed his sound from the inside out, keeping the same framework but polishing each nut and bolt.
While Rebel Era primarily speaks to GRiZ’s impressive evolution within the style he pioneered this time last year, there are certain tracks that on an individual basis might be just as noteworthy as the album as a whole. On “Too Young For Tragedy pt. II”, Grant diabolically reimagines Mad Liberation’s opener. As one of this LP’s best tracks, it is the manifestation of the point I’m making, of his impressive self-awareness. You wouldn’t have known it until you heard “pt. II”, but the original was only half there. Grant opens up the hood and replaces its engine with one that’s lighter, faster, and stronger, hardly altering the body but making it perform at a level previously unimaginable. (I hate to make compassions in reference to something that’s so singularly one man’s vision, but it’s Skillex in the battle, Dillon Francis in the breaks. It’s quite impressive.) And the criminally good “Crime In The City”, undoubtedly the album’s biggest talking point, speaks for itself.
When I wrote about GRiZ last, I couldn’t help but notice the thematic similarities between the music of Mad Liberation and its cover. The art, with two individuals floating out of a forest into some sort of mystical ruin, was strangely reflective of the fascinating sound pioneered on the album—as we, the listener, were also discovering something new and remarkable. Coincidentally or otherwise, Rebel Era’s cover functions in the very same way. A man who, with a flat-brimmed hat, is assumable meant to represent Grant himself, cruises, top down, past a similar futuristic metropolis. This character isn’t taken back by the stunning design of the city just to his right, but instead looks calm, cool, at peace. He’s comfortable, as if this odd, artful utopia is his home. Rebel Era is Grant showing us that he has no intention of leaving his incredible home quite yet.