by Max Miller
Emotion, pure and unrelenting, is the greatest tool an artist possesses in any medium. Few contemporary composers understand this as well as singer and songwriter Crywolf (born Justin Taylor Phillips). For years, he has been pushing the boundaries of melodic bass music to create heart-wrenching murals of sound that lie somewhere on the bipolar boundary between euphoria and abject depression. Dysphoria is his latest EP, and as the title suggests, it is a refinement of that sonic emotional abyss. In creating it, Crywolf exiled himself to a remote hamlet in Iceland, working nonstop. Running at a brusque 10 tracks long (4 of which are interludes, acoustic versions, or remixes) there are no fillers here. Each number serves a distinct purpose in the narrative of this conceptually driven project. It is a look into the lingering and omnipresent nature of depression, a baring of the soul.
With previous projects, Crywolf has demonstrated a prodigal ability to hone in on mankind’s most crucial vulnerabilities and emotional fragilities. Songs such as 2014’s “Runaway” cut to the core of our collective inability to control our own destinies, the edge of the abyss looming large on the horizon of our vision. On Dysphoria, Justin has perfected this aesthetic. One of his strongest traits is the lyrical prowess he exhibits. The lead single, “Neverland,” features Charity Lane, and feels like the sequel-in-spirit to “The Home We Made Pt. II.” As Charity croons, “Will we ever find our neverland?” Crywolf soars over the nu-dubstep production with a voice so wrapped in sadness one can nearly picture the tears in his eyes as he mourns, “Drinking on Monday, sleeping just to numb the pain.” Chronic depression is to Crywolf what love was to Shakespeare—an endless muse of creative inspiration. Rather than something to overcome, it is a vast cavern ripe for expedition. “The storm is coming now, can we survive somehow?” he wonders.
Overwhelming darkness subsumes each track, bleeding melancholy into even the brightest spots on Dysphoria. One such spot, “Stomach It,” which features the always talented EDEN, is the eye of this emotional storm. It is the calm which follows a flood of tears. Over minimalist snaps and kick drums laced with light guitar chords, EDEN and Crywolf exchange verses. “Will you watch me as I fade away?” they duet as the production reaches a crescendo. It is the beginning of a resignation, a loss of motivation. Things are the way they are. It feels right that this should be the most mellow song we find on this project.
Closing out Dysphoria is the instrumental track “Dirge.” Disembodied and pitched down vocals wail sadly over an instrumental that sounds hopeful in juxtaposition. As the title suggests, this seems to be funeral music. Any end, even death, seems like relief. Though an acoustic version of “Stomach It,” and a VIP of “Shrike” follow, this is effectively the last track of the EP proper. It ends with a sense of finality, a long deserved rest from the pain of life.
As a whole, Dysphoria is the most fully realized electronic project I have encountered this year. Though it deviates from the melodic dubstep that he is most known for, there is something to be said for sacrificing mainstream predilections in favor of something artistic. This is not merely more material to pump the crowd up during a live set. Nearly every song on Dysphoria would be an absolute dud at any popular music festival. This is not EDM. This is what happens when artistic integrity supercedes flashy light shows and cake-throwing. This is the cut and bruised soul residing in all of us brought into the spotlight in all its wretched glory.
Dysphoria is now available for purchase on all major online retailers.