Steve Aoki – Wonderland (Review)

Posted by on January 18, 2012

Steve Aoki has already seen big things in 2012 and we’re barely halfway through January. He started off by headlining a wild three-day cruise around the Bahamas (have you seen the pictures from Holy Ship? Craaazy) and then immediately turned around to drop his hotly anticipated debut album, “Wonderland.” Big ups to Steve and the whole Dim Mak gang — the album has understandably been generating a ton of buzz around the interwebz since its Jan 9th release. But now that the dust has begun to settle, let’s cut through the Paris Hilton tweets and accolades to see what’s actually going on here.

First things first: there’s a whooooole lot happening on this album. Cudi, Travis Barker, LMFAO, Lil Jon, Rivers Cuomo, NERVO, Wynter Gordon, some people I’ve never heard of…virtually every track features a guest collaborator, many of whom boast more mainstream name recognition than Aoki himself. By and large, this means that the album functions as perhaps the most aggressive effort since David Guetta to bring dance music to a wider American audience; “Wonderland” is accessible and high-energy enough to appeal to people who lack an in-depth knowledge of EDM but are down to hit the dance floor after a few drinks. Commercially speaking, this is a good thing. Aoki is nothing if not a savvy businessman and tastemaker, and he no doubt recognizes that pop music is heading in a decidedly house-oriented direction.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the darker side of Wonderland’s diversity — as a single body of work, it’s rather incoherent, and in order to pick up that mainstream demographic Aoki has played it overwhelmingly safe. It’s hard not to love Aoki — I feel like he’s always getting into weird awesome shenanigans like filming himself bungee jumping into a giant vat of cheese, or something — but this album ranges from unfocused and manic to redundant and dull. “The Kids Will Have Their Say” in particular comes out of left field (Die Kreuzen? They’re in the game?) and some of the tracks feel worryingly warmed-over. “Earthquakey People” and “Ladi Dadi” — currently the two biggest singles on the album, which Aoki has been promoting aggressively — feel particularly stale and repetitive. “Turbulence,” which spotlights the talented Laidback Luke, is filled with all the tantalizing promise of an insanely high energy club banger….if only Lil Jon wasn’t also invited to the party.

But that isn’t to say that the album is all bad. “Livin’ My Love”, with LMFAO and NERVO, blends together fierce electro wobbles with LMFAO’s tested party anthem-y sound, in a move that perhaps presages the next five years of mainstream dance pop. On “Cudi the Kid,” Aoki maneuvers Kid Cudi squarely back into trippy “Man on the Moon” territory (something we can all be thankful for) and even enhances Cudder’s trademark spacey sound by giving him a lush, dubstep-inflected background to work with. And “No Beef,” which we’ve all been listening to for months now, is obviously well established at this point as an anthem of 2011. As I said, Aoki is nothing if not a savvy businessman and tastemaker.

Head to iTunes to download “Wonderland” or preview two of the tracks below.

PREVIEW: Steve Aoki – Livin’ My Love (feat. LMFAO & NERVO)

PREVIEW: Steve Aoki – Cudi the Kid (feat. Kid Cudi & Travis Barker)

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