Thomas Wesley Pentz, also known as Diplo, is an EDM DJ/producer in the same vein as Marshmello. His sophomore album, Snake Oil, boasts a star studded feature list: Noah Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Julia Michaels to name a few. Unfortunately, almost none of the artists featured on this album were able to overcome Wesley’s confusingly mellow production.
The songs on the album run together and essentially sound the same. Wesley’s production is so empty that it could only work if the songs had emotional lyrics/vocals that we’re supposed to pay attention to (which they definitely don’t), or if it’s supposed to be dance music. However, dance music has to have a certain edge, a liveliness or at least catchy percussion to latch on to. This album is too bare to listen to on its own, but far too mellow for clubs.
“Do Se Do featuring Blanco Brown” has a bit of a catchier sound than the other songs, with a whistle and guitar part motoring along. But again, the sound is too mellow to justify the lyrics about “badonkadonks” and “Let me see you throw it down and do si do,” which are sung in an low and husky voice that can only be described as uncomfortable to listen to. Throwing it down generally means twerking, and do si do-ing is when people link elbows and skip around each other. If anyone can actually twerk and do si do at the same time, that would be truly impressive, if a bit concerning. However, Wesley was not able to blend the two ideas, and it feels like a deeply inappropriate advance at a square dance.
“Heartbreak featuring Ben Burgess” stands out with interesting lyrical ideas. The concept is that heartbreak, while terrible, makes the world go round, from keeping bars open past eight because people need to drink away their sorrow, to keeping music alive with breakup songs. In addition to having an intriguing lyrical premise, it’s also the only track with a tune that doesn’t immediately evaporate from memory when the song ends.
“So Long featuring Cam” also stands out, mostly because Cam is able to project some presence, unlike Julia Michaels, who sounds like she’s just waiting till she can go home and take a nap. To be fair to Michaels, most of the featured vocalists aren’t able to hold their ground against the sonic erosion of the generic production. In “So Long,” Cam is awake and holding the listener’s attention, right until the chorus. The scratching violin-adjacent ‘drop’ is so ugly that it’s hard to decide whether to hate it or love it.
The most daring track by far is “Old Town Road (Diplo Remix).” “Old Town Road” was at the top of the Hot 100 for a mind-blowing nineteen weeks and won two Grammys. It’s the kind of masterpiece that shouldn’t work, but inexplicably does, too weird to not love. Remixing a song like this was a bold move, and turned out to be a lesson in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Diplo took out most of the percussion and replaced the main hook of the song with the whistle tune. In the original song, the whistle is a barely-there garnish, but here, Diplo treats it as the main course. This remix essentially takes all the fun out of “Old Town Road.” The track set itself an ambitious task, and while it failed, Diplo at least earns the respect of attempting it at all.
Overall, the album is lackluster. He played it too safe. In the debate of whether it’s better to have bad taste or no taste, Snake Oil makes a compelling case for the former.