The Elektro Review: MONSTA blasts onto the scene with soulful self-titled EP
Some songs take time to grow on you. Others flame out quickly after a few listens. Others still get added to your iTunes library and are quickly forgotten. But if you’re lucky, among the glut of new releases every day, you can find a gem: That rare song that hits you instantly, intensely, but retains its resonance over countless plays and long stretches of time. As soon as I heard Monsta’s explosive “Holdin’ On” over the summer, I knew it would fall into this latter category, earning a spot on my perennial playlist.
The track was finally released this week on Skrillex’s OWSLA Records, opening Monsta’s eponymous debut EP. The group, comprised of producers Rocky and Rufio and vocalist Skaar, brings a much-needed dose of soul to the label. Over heavy yet nuanced beats, Skaar’s androgynous voice shines, at once raw, soulful and defiantly hopeful… and masterfully sampled by Rocky and Rufio throughout the record.
Skaar’s performance on “Holdin’ On” recalls an earlier time in music, when emotion was at the forefront; here, all the same feeling is present, but modernized – and perhaps even enhanced – by big drums and deep, wobbling bass. The contrast between the engineered gunshot sounds peppered throughout “Holdin’ On” and the delicate piano melody with it ends epitomizes Monsta’s great strength: fusing seemingly disparate elements to create something entirely new.
The trio continues to innovate on the EP’s other two original tracks. “Messiah” begins with a gospel-inspired piano and grows as Skaar preaches over the beat, his voice just as warm and inspired as before. And, just as on “Holdin’ On,” the choruses and breakdowns get the requisite hits of dubby bass to accompany the uplifting melody.
“Where Did I Go?,” the third original Monsta track, is based around a simple vocal refrain and moves at a slower pace than its two predecessors: listeners are taken on a sonic climb of sorts with Skaar. “Where Did I Go?” has all the heaviness one would expect from an OWSLA release, but is more nuanced and emotional. Production on this track is particularly detailed and pristine – it feels more accurate to say that Rocky and Rufio “scored” this track rather than merely having “produced” it.
Like most OWSLA EPs, Monsta also features a bevy of remixes, one per original track. Skrilex and Nero joined forces for a rare remix. The resulting take on “Holdin’ On” rivals their infamous “Cinema” remix in both brute bass force and creativity. The vocals are slowed slightly here, making it all the more jarring when the beat dissolves into outright drum-and-bass madness. Each section of the track offers something slightly different sonically, which makes it as good a club tune as it is one to study in your headphones.
Alvin Risk begins his “Messiah” in an excitingly unexpected way – a disco-meets-90s-dance feel that’s reminiscent of Ultra Naté’s sound. Just as the campy fun picks up speed, Risk segues into a dubby, computerized sequence that makes the vocals near unrecognizable. Dillon Francis and Kill Paris take a somewhat familiar route on their remix of “Where Did I Go?,” with a tried-and-true moombahton sound that gives way to grating synths and a bleeping melody. Not much of the original remains, save for Skaar’s “Where did I go?” refrain.
“Holdin’ On” grabbed the ears – and hearts – of music fans as it slowly picked up steam this summer and fall, and its official release will surely mark a turning point for Monsta. The EP proves that the trio is no one-hit wonder, but rather a musical force to be reckoned with. The combination of Rocky and Rufio’s groundbreaking production and Skaar’s chills-inducing vocals leaves us anxiously awaiting more from the trio.