Wesley Pentz and Sonny Moore, better-known as Diplo and Skrillex, respectively, have been on a collision course for years. During dance music’s ascendance in the last decade, they both have found enormous success as EDM iconoclasts. Their two labels/empires — Skrillex runs OWSLA, Diplo Mad Decent — serve as the DARPA of the genre, funding an array of wildly experimental and divergent acts that make the poppy sounds of Calvin Harris and David Guetta seem pandering and monochromatic by comparison. If anyone can be expected to push EDM forward, it’s them. Unfortunately, their self-titled debut as Jack Ü — surprise-released Feb. 27 during a live-streamed, 18-hour, tag-team DJ set — is not the album to do it.
Jack Ü was mostly recorded in transit while the two jet-setted between their many gigs, which explains both the frenzied global vibe and the fact that almost everything here sounds recycled from whichever old hard drives these guys had on hand. Squint and you might mistake “Beats Knockin” as a sped-up “Harlem Shake,” while “Jungle Bae” adds zero to the hammering ragga formula these two have been slaying dancefloors with for years now. If you disassembled Skrillex’s 2011 track “Reptile Theme,” you’d get the component parts of much of this record.
Some special guests save the day. 2 Chainz is hilarious on the booming “Febreze” (“I’m the shit/I should have Febreze on me”). And Justin Bieber’s sad-boy coo is just right for the dulcet piano and restrained (for a change) two-step beat of “Where Are Ü Now.” Indeed, Jack Ü works best when it nestles melody amid the bass bombast, which is why “Take Ü There,” with its iron-clad hook sung by Kiesza (and an animated verse from Missy Elliott on the remix), deserves to be one of 2015’s biggest hits. The song is proof that you can teach old samples new tricks, but that’s a relatively low bar for two of EDM’s biggest innovators.