What So Not
Not All the Beautiful Things
Counter Records · March 09, 2018
After several years of sporadically releasing singles and EPs, Australian producer Chris Emerson has at last released the debut LP from his project What So Not. What So Not, formerly a joint effort between Emerson and producer Harley Edward Streten (better known as Flume), has come a long way since breaking into the electronic music scene with an ever-evolving sound amid changes in regime and trends in the genre. On Not All the Beautiful Things, What So Not flirts with both conformity to and rejection of mainstream electronic music trends to varying degrees of success. Certain songs rely on a large-scale sound crafted to fill arenas whereas other tracks are made to fill rooms, not stadiums, creating an overall disparate sound across the project.
First and foremost, Not All the Beautiful Things is less of a cohesive album and more so a collection of 12 individual tracks that stand independent of each other. Collaborating with artists ranging from Toto to Skrillex, Emerson casts a wide net of diverse sounds across his debut project. Tracks such as ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Stuck in Orbit’ attempt a more pop-oriented approach that starkly contrasts the grit and aggression of tracks like ‘Goh’. Most tracks from Not All the Beautiful Things sound as though they’re tailor-made for a dark, intimate venue, focusing on hard-hitting, bass-driven sounds of smaller club bangers rather than the stratospheric sounds crafted by larger electronic artists.
With this project, Emerson also joins the list of several other producers who have began to dabble in merging their existing sound with elements of hip hop. Teaming up with the likes of Michael Christmas and Rome Fortune, Emerson dips his toes into the world of hip-hop-inspired electronic music with mixed results. On ‘Monsters’, Emerson’s production suits the flow of Michael Christmas’ verses but it’s slightly uninteresting and, when combined with the song’s weak hook, the overall result is underwhelming. ‘Demons’ is a bit more of an upbeat and interesting track production-wise but it doesn’t quite have the catchiness or party-ready vibe of other hip hop/electronic crossover tracks.
The highlights of Not All the Beautiful Things lie in the album’s three singles. ‘Stuck in Orbit’, which features vocals from singer BUOY, is easily the standout track of the album. Starting off with minimalistic production before transitioning into an ethereal crescendo by the time the hook comes around, the song provides the listener with feelings of being carefree and content, as if they’re floating amid nothing. On ‘Beautiful’, Emerson teams up with Winona Oak to create a bouncy, danceable track ready for any nightclub. ‘Be Ok Again’ features Daniel Johns, an Australian singer/songwriter who appears several times across the album. This is the song most similar to the sound that What So Not fans would expect: fast-paced and intricate with a hard-hitting drop.
Adding to the menagerie of styles, a subset of the songs on Not All the Beautiful Things rely on aggressive, bass-in-your-face drops that draw upon elements of dubstep. Tracks such as ‘Bottom End’, ‘If Only You Knew’, and the Skrillex collab ‘Goh’ all have intense drops that are less suited for a mainstream audience and geared more toward live sets and existing fans of both What So Not and the genre. Each of these tracks has unique nuances but collectively, they pull upon the same stylistic elements and blend together upon a first pass of the album.
By branching out in several directions with his music across the album, Emerson falls victim to a trend seen across many full-length electronic music releases. Individually, most of the tracks on Not All the Beautiful Things are solid but a lack of cohesiveness between them creates an overall average album. Nothing about this release is necessarily bad but the whole is certainly not greater than the sum of its parts. Lacking intentional direction is not uncommon in a first full-length release and if Emerson sticks with one of the handful of styles he displayed on this album, there is hope for a more cohesive full-length release in the future. Not All the Beautiful Things in its entirety may not be the right album for everyone but there is a high chance that among its individual tracks, fans of electronic music will find at least one track suited to their preferences.