REVIEW: What So Not is Sick of Predictability on “Divide And Conquer”

EDM is often defined by a standard set of rules. Start off with some twinkling synths, add in a vocal and some simulated hand claps and begin the build to a drop that never quite delivers. The idea is to leave people wanting more, not less right?

What So Not doesn’t play by the rules. The now solo Emoh Instead seems to have a new-found sense of adventure that wasn’t around on previous outings. Last year’s Gemini EP was digestible, fun and a good choice for some head-bopping car jams, but it didn’t stand up and scream “I’m different! Give me some extra attention.” It wasn’t bad, it was just….normal. It followed the rules and ticked the boxes.

If Gemini was the well-behaved student, Divide And Conquer is the rebellious, angst-filled teenager that makes people uncomfortable due to their sheer charisma and energy.

The title track opens proceedings and its mosquito drone and knife-edge 8-bit synth lines give off an instant sense of expectation. Something big is coming, and its worth sticking around to hear the result. Feeling more like the soundtrack to the final boss-battle of a 90’s Game Boy game (remember those?), the build drops into one of the filthiest grooves of the year, with dirty, distorted bass erupting from the studio and giving the listeners eardrums an almighty thrashing.

After the eruption of the first song, bringing things down into the piano-based interlude of Severence seems confusing at first, with the gentle atmosphere feeling slightly out-of-place after such a huge opening; however, as the song flows into the atmospheric Lone, it becomes clear that  such a blatant contrast of style is what truly allows the emotion of the song to shine.

What Emoh  manages to achieve on this EP is the rare ability to make every song truly stand on its own. From the blissful theatrics of Buriedwith the guest verses of Rome Fortune and George Maple delivered with so much confidence (it almost seems like they aren’t even trying) to the glitchy depths of Montreal, there is no sense of “sameness” here.

Kimbra appears on the latter, adding some angelic vocals to break up the tension of  the ‘push-pull’ generated by the groove. Whilst Montreal might focus too much on its drops as opposed to the talents of its guest, it sees Emoh pushing even further into the unknown, exploring the wide world of soundscapes available through the wonders of technology.

Whilst the EP certainly expands the musical palette of What So Not, it doesn’t completely abandon the realm of accessibility. Despite being packed to the brim with all manner of choppy sounds, Trust contains that killer hook that made us love the music of What So Not in the first place. Scaling back on the musical ambition heard previously on the EP, Trust uses both dynamics and melody to capture attention, succeeding on both counts.

Feel It wraps things up. Serving as the more down-the-line cut of the record, it helps the listener finish with at least some puff. With a steady drive from the bass, the song sits nicely beneath the verses of Tunji,  almost feeling like a final victory lap of sorts.

‘Victory lap’ may be too bold of a term for some when talking about an EP, but the format shouldn’t detract from the extraordinary musical growth that What So Not has shown between drinks.

Divide And Conquer is a collection of songs that well and truly break the mould that Emoh’s contemporaries have sat in so nicely for the last five years. It takes some getting used to, but its worth the effort.

Image: Supplied