One of the most pleasant surprises at 2013’s Outside Lands festival was then-23-year-old producer GRiZ playing at the smallest stage. This was when EDM was getting a little stale and the dubstep thing was starting to mutate into trap, deep house and big-room electro house. Even if you think you’d seen enough DJs to last a lifetime, this skinny guy, projecting a bug-eyed confidence and grinning like a madman, spun funk so nimble and lithe it was near-impossible not to move. Yes, there were buildups and drops, but GRiZ’s music wasn’t about jumping ecstatically to an endlessly-teased musical cue. This stuff got under the skin.

His records are less exhilarating, which one might initially peg on the fact that a lot of dance music is built for DJ sets and not for home listening. Ride Waves, though, gives another answer. GRiZ is a festival artist, and this is festival music specifically for the jam-band crowd. These songs are meant to be experienced live, possibly many times over by the devoted descendants of Deadheads that still load up in vans in pursuit of the Vibe. How else to explain the classic-rock instrumentation throughout, the bluesy organs and Claptonesque guitar fills at odds with the liquid-metal motions of his bass drops? How else to explain the presence of Matisyahu? “All we need to learn is love,” he sings, a thesis that immediately deflates once you’ve heard his fake patois.

The blues-rock thing is unnecessary. EDM at its best is an expert merger of volume and sound design, and the Bootsy Collins feature on “Bustin’ Out” places his work in the tradition of songs like “Atomic Dog” that likewise sound like machines whose parts are falling out but somehow still manage to chug along. That Collins’ voice is run through a thick phone-filter also hints at a refreshing irreverent streak; he’s got his hero in the studio, but he’s still the boss. He’s a master of making the artificial sound organic. Here, the organic sounds artificial. “Real” cues and club music can combine beautifully, as in the hands of a Moodymann or a Theo Parrish. The music this record evokes is “real” in the worst way: the wooden performances of roots music we hear from some of The Voice’s older contestants.

What saves Ride Waves from wretchedness is GRiZ’s innate knack for motion. He keeps his beats at a lazy funk tempo, replacing the frenetic action of so many festival DJs with subtler and more insinuating ways of making us move. His work feels almost quaint in 2019, evoking as it does an era of EDM when the sound design of the drop was as thrilling for audiences as its volume and inevitability. This isn’t what you’d call intelligent music, but it’s sneaky. Even if his taste as a producer is questionable, his talent is never in doubt. He doesn’t need to make guitars cry when he’s so good at making machines sing.

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