‘+/-’ takes listeners to murky musical depths

Image of a man in black and white looking directly at the camera.
Boys Noize is an innovator in the EDM music scene. His commitment to his career was evident since his youth when he would play shows through the late hours of night and attend school the next day. (Photo courtesy of EDM.com)

German-Iraqi electronic music producer Alexander Ridha’s, also known as Boys Noize’s, signature brand of twisted techno and acidic dance music has always been a force to be reckoned with in the sphere of popular music. His newest album, “+/-” (pronounced “Polarity”), is perhaps the most impressive addition to his resume. Released on his own label, Boysnoize Records, the album explores Ridha’s understanding of duality across 15 tracks by employing sonically polarized sounds, ranging from gritty house to atmospheric and soulful electronic. In doing so, Ridha cements his place as a peerless frontrunner in EDM, pushing the genre’s boundaries to incredibly innovative extremes.

Describing his life as an up-and-coming DJ in Berlin, Ridha in an interview with Billboard said, “Every Sunday night, I would play from 2:00 ‘til 5:00 in the morning, go home, take a shower, go to school on Monday morning.” This dichotomy clearly informs the sound of “+/-,” which can be seen as primarily divided between club-ready, warehouse-style, industrial EDM and more abstract techno and electronic.

The mainstream and oddball sounds permeating the record are also complemented by a variety of guests, all of whom provide essential contributions to the record’s polarized full picture. Take the record’s lead single, “Girl Crush,” which would be obsolete without the contributions of Maryland’s hyper-aggressive sugary-rap mainstay Rico Nasty. Over thumping industrial bass and heavy electronics, Nasty nightmarishly raps “I think I got a girl crush / I think I got a girl crush.” 

PC Music’s raunchy and humorous Estonian rapper Tommy Cash provides surprisingly sensual verses on the multi-faceted single “Nude,” which oscillates between giving listeners air to breathe and pounding their ears with abrasive, acidic sonics and bass. Alternative R&B songstress ABRA upholds the record’s club-friendly sensuousness on highlight “Affection,” where she hypnotically commands her partner not to “feed [her] affection.”

The instant gratification these tracks provide is clearly owed to Boys Noize’s brilliantly engineered collaborations and the fireworks that explode when his guests complement his intoxicatingly sour and pulsating soundscapes.

Although a majority of “+/-” is optimally designed for inducing post-pandemic euphoria at the club, Ridha is unafraid to experiment with styles not inherently conducive to his signature hellish EDM sound. As Ridha mentioned to Pitchfork while promoting the album, ​​“When you combine opposites, something transcendent can take place, something greater than the two parts. And with music, it becomes a magic that can create new worlds.” This becomes especially apparent on the album’s stunning centerpiece “Ride or Die,” a collaboration with classically-trained musician and MC Chilly Gonzalez and vocalist and cellist Kelsey Lu.

Gonzalez’s classical influences result in the single featuring some of the only piano sounds heard across the entire record, new musical territory as compared to Ridha’s usually electronics-exclusive mode of production. Lu’s haunting vocal refrain “Like a kiss on the run / Like a kiss on the run / Be my ride or die / Be my ride or die” soars over crescendoing instrumentation that comes to a rapturous climax in the song’s latter half, continuing the record’s thematic threads of duality and contrast.

A key collaborator for artists such as Lady Gaga, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Snoop Dogg and Skrillex, Ridha has long operated at the decks and been known for his work as a remixer and DJ rather than a soloist, though that changes now. Although the roster of guests is certainly one of the album’s most pivotal components, Ridha sets out to prove that the album’s solo tracks can pull their weight just as much.

The album’s opener “Close,” as well as deep cut “XYXY,” get raucous with their futuristic percussion and slimy grooves. The real solo standout arrives with “Xpress Yourself,” which loops a whispered refrain of “Express yourself” over breakneck bubblegum bass. Ridha’s employment of campy vocal samples on these tracks among others adds a playful flair to his music that has been previously absent.

“+/-” is not without its faults. The tracklist, no matter how polarized at times, does tend to homogenize and blend together at a certain point. The second half of the record loses a bit of momentum as it moves into the more musically abstract. However, as a whole, the album sees Ridha in peak form as he displays complete mastery over his trademark sound of abrasive, demonic techno and house and sonically explores duality like never done before.