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Dead Sea

The trap musician mixes up his trademark pounding basslines with other styles on this distinct and complex production.

Nathan Merrill, better known as Eliminate, has had an impressive 2019. Two of his songs were in the top ten most-played songs at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas 2019, including “Weeble Wobble,” one of the biggest songs of the festival season.

The song was released on his previous extended project, “Cyber Whale,” where Merrill’s bouncy trap-influenced style solidified. Because of his previous project’s memorability, it only makes sense that Merrill’s follow-up seven months later would be hotly anticipated. “Dead Sea” is yet another round of the artist’s distinctive style, but does it hold up to the high standards set by “Cyber Whale”?

The first second of the EP is the sound of a quick splash of water to kick off the aquatic theme of the project, but it wastes no time getting into the pounding basslines that fans have been waiting for. “Sinkhole,” the opening track, contains fluttering arpeggios that are covered by siren-like synthesizers.

After a female voice alerts the listener that “elimination is imminent,” the drums slow and the main synthesizers vibrate wildly; it only takes a few more seconds for the speed to increase to hectic levels before the bass drop hits.

It opens with the bubbly, squeaking lead sound sliding downward in an imitation of a record scratch, after which the dubstep beat locks into place and the drop begins proper. The pounding bassline eventually switches into a trap breakdown, but the slippery noises continue all the way up until the final drop. It’s very similar to the first, but this time, a modulated voice exclaims “lemme see ya bounce” over the drop, and it works surprisingly well.

It’s treated just like any other noise in the song, and it flows organically, which is a theme among Merrill’s music. “Sinkhole” is a song that feels less impactful on repeated listens, but it’s a perfect opener to the “Dead Sea” project.

The next song on the EP, “Stupid,” is a banger from the very beginning. The sounds on this track are still aquatic, but there are a few frog-like noises mixed in — the opening has some chirping sounds that you might hear near a lonely river at night, and the build-up to the drop has some deeper croaks mixed in.

The drop hits fast, with scattered synthesizer stabs featured above a humming bassline that fills out the atmosphere. This track, more than the first, is an encapsulation of the dead sea in the project’s title.

As the track progresses, the synthesizer stabs start sounding like the shrieks from the movie “Psycho”: not as high-pitched, but almost as anxiety-inducing. The only thing that detracts from the feeling of an aquatic nightmare is the repetition of the word “stupid” throughout the entire song. The song could have stood on its own without that sample, but even so, it’s an atmospheric trap banger that’s sure to go off in clubs.

You’re Gonna Love Me” is an interesting track. The beginning is very dark and foreboding, and Leah Culver’s desperate pleas toward a former lover — or perhaps near the end of their relationship — add to the dark atmosphere. Her voice is beautiful, and the repetition of the lyrics cement them in the listener’s head.

The build is dominated by Culver’s voice, but when the climax hits, a distortion effect takes over and drives a stake in the song’s haunting beauty, replacing it with a steady hybrid trap drop. The vocal distortion at the beginning of the drop is a high point on the project, simply for its simplicity and excellent execution, but the drop itself can’t be overlooked.

The rhythm is very simple, and it doesn’t deviate much from the initial repeating 16th-note pattern, but it’s catchy and sticks in your head just like the vocals. It’s hard not to bob your head as you listen. The second drop is an adjusted version of the first, with a slower pattern and less going on, but the head-bobbing doesn’t stop. It gives a chance to hear Merrill’s dark atmosphere, which continues throughout the somber melodic outro. Culver returns to croon over the final moments, then the project moves on to perhaps the most anticipated track.

Given that “Weeble Wobble” was an extremely popular song throughout the past year and was the fifth most-played track at EDC Las Vegas, the creation of a “Weeble Wobble VIP” was inevitable. A VIP, or a remix of a song by the original artist, is often highly anticipated by fans because producers let themselves go wild and show off their creativity when they get to mess with their own music.

Merrill hits a tongue-in-cheek tone instantly with some in-jokes from previous Disciple releases: Virus Syndicate’s “Eliminiminiminate” from “We Don’t Play” is sampled, as well as the “weeble wobble” vocal from a more recent Bandlez song, also titled “Weeble Wobble.”

Beyond the jokes, the distinct bubbles and rubbery squelches of the original song are as vibrant as ever, but the fun house beat is replaced by a frantic up-tempo drop that evolves into a cool trap breakdown. The vibrant atmosphere keeps up throughout the final trap drop as well, which gets a bit more energetic and finishes this journey with a bang. Fans are guaranteed to lose their minds over this song, and that’s exactly this “Dead Sea” reprise set out to do.

The penultimate track is sonically similar to the second track, “Stupid.” However, where “Stupid” was a headbanging trap song, “Numb” is a laid-back dubstep track with influences from before the modern era of festival-ready brostep. It truly lives up to its title: This is not something to listen to during an intense festival set, and it functions as a chill departure from the high-energy, bass-thumping tracks on the rest of the EP. There is still bass, but the track shines because of Merrill’s abilities as a producer.

The drops are the obvious highlight of the song, with rubbery triplet patterns gliding between several levels of distortion, but the excellent execution leaves the rest of the track slightly lacking in comparison.

This track is Merrill showing off: He’s at the top of his career right now and still trending upwards, and his sound design is immaculate beyond almost everyone else in dance music right now. This is not a song that gets you out of your seat, but it is one that should be experienced with closed eyes, a bobbing head and a sense of wonder.

The closing track, “Everything,” is a melodic departure from Merrill’s expected style. Choosing to end such a dark project with an uplifting drum and bass song is an interesting choice, but it’s a satisfying payoff. The uncredited male vocalist sings about an intense intimate relationship while light drum patterns fill the background, keeping listeners engaged between the sweet-sounding breakdowns.

The melodies in the song are undeniably catchy. They’re comprised of Merrill’s typically bubbly sounds, but softened and tempered to match the positive and carefree energy of the song. After two beautiful drops, the song comes to a gentle close.

In the waning seconds of the EP, a voice asks, “Are we dreaming?” It’s a valid question after such a diverse yet centralized project. Merrill never strays from his unique aquatic style, even as he tackles a multitude of genres and ideas. Getting sucked into the underwater world of “Eliminate” will leave listeners in a trance, and nobody will leave the “Dead Sea” without a newfound respect for its creator.

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