Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again: Review

When it comes to supergroups in music, as fans, you won’t always get what you expected. Talent is derivative when you have multiple great minds working together, and they still deliver an album or song that is forgettable. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again. Though one could forgive giving a benefit of the doubt, Until Now mix of remixes and originals never felt like it had a concrete direction. They had the hype and great music and continue to do so, but in the end, unless bias flows through veins, Paradise Again is another collection of forgettable music. So for every few great songs we get, there are momentous duds that sound half-written. Prior to its release, thoughts lingered, like are we getting a similar flop like Until Now or something refreshing for 2022? Unfortunately, so. Paradise Again has some solid songs, but a predominant lack of energy to grow beyond the standard keeps it from being anything more than an alright album.

The three artists who make up Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angelo, and Sebastian Ingrosso, have two sides to their artistry, and both on the craft side. As live mixers and performers, they are some of the best, but as producers and writers, they tiptoe a line between blandness and an illusion of dreary-shadowy ambiance coded in this style of Electronic/House music. As producers, they are 50-50, usually hitting when they create a lavish pop coating, like on 2012’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and or 2021’s “Moth To A Flame.” Paradise Again isn’t devoid of them, and of the ones we get, most end up being great. Some include the vibrant EDM track “Heaven Takes You Home” and the darkly nuanced electro-pop “Another Minute.” The earwormy vocals match the energy–and elevate–the production’s impact.

Of their four singles released in anticipation for Paradise Again, “Moth To A Flame” and “Lifetime” are two that left an immediate impact. “Lifetime” blends melancholic R&B drum beats (subtle), and vocals, with contrasting dreamy and dreary synths. It shifts from some boorish sounds not too far back or forward in the tracklisting. Similarly, “Moth To A Flame” builds a beautiful synth-pop foundation and finds home within bleak overtures that Swedish House Mafia weaves together with The Weeknd’s ambient vocals. Despite hearing and understanding the context of their soundscape, the quality of music is rarer. Sure, parts of the album are grand and progressive; however, it slips with the one-dimensional like “Mafia” or lacks energy, like A$AP Rocky on “Frankenstein.” This lack of energy gets heard during the last third; you get entwined with conservative House and EDM, and you are left feeling underwhelmed–like other singles, “It Get’s Better” and “Redlight” with Sting, which came and went without leaving a burning sound bite in my head. 

“It Get’s Better” gets finicky with the percussion. It’s too warped into this need to get progressive that it loses touch on what was working for the first minute. It’s a rough EDM track with dronish snares and a stop-gap of jarring cowbells midway. However, “Redlight,” which follows suit, also has a similar shift mid-song, but it’s smoother as it retains its sonic motif of dreary ambiance. Interloping the first verse and chorus of “Roxanne” by The Police, Sting’s rerecorded vocals diminish its effectiveness. It has this essence where it would have worked better as an instrumental, like “Paradise Again,” which perfectly delivers a darkened ambient progressive house core. For “Redlight,” it could have had a little more life, and instead, I’m left drowning out Sting or skipping further down the tracklist. 

Swedish House Mafia, as producers, don’t bring many unique ideas into the fray, often showing both hands: one where all plain linings of EDM/House running through their veins, and another that offers more to build off. Think of it like Poker, where one of their hands contains a set of pairs, while you have a classic straight flush in the other. It’s evident how perplexing the differences between what works and what doesn’t are when it comes to the soundscape they give us. But when it comes to the good, and sometimes lavish, songs, they are shifting away from the standard complexions of EDM, like on “Can U Feel It,” or the wrought-house track “19:30,” and shift to production stacked with these various elements from other genres. Upon listening, you’d wish they had consistent energy flowing through their veins, and we’d get more stuff like “Lifetime,” but unfortunately, we’re left shuffling between a few half-assed ideas and superb works of music.

Like the final song, “For You,” the length of Paradise Again is overlong. The 67-minute album could have gotten trimmed down for a fluent progression in sound, but it’s disjointed and underwhelming. Though there are a lot of great tracks on here, and “Lifetime” will see an “exhausting” amount of replays, I won’t find myself returning to it from start to finish anytime soon.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

The Weekly Coos Presents: A Retro Dance Party

When it comes to Dance music two definitions come to mind. It is a genre. It is a label for a song’s specific vibe and correlation to the dance floor. It started with Disco creating a new atmosphere for club-goers, stretching far and wide until it stripped down to sonic style with more synths and bass grooves. It has now become nuanced, along with the second wave of European dominance in the club scene with early House and Eurodance, as we see with the influx of pop stars coming from overseas today.

As people, we have this innate reaction when a recognizable hit or, as some put it, one-hit wonders, starts playing. We start tapping our feet to the groove that comes from our core, leaning into mingling and escaping our comfort zone. Everyone will have their niche taste or the music that will get them grooving; for me, it is Dua Lipa and others, who may listen to Heavy Metal, may still throw down when “Cosmic Girl” or “Virtual Insanity,” by Jamiroquai starts playing. But the dance floor is for all types of music, despite pop trends weighing in what would be a dominating force in clubs.

The variety of trends that have dominated the pop-sphere have waned and dissipated as new ones arise; however, the influence remains in new trends. I emphasize new trends because they aren’t necessarily new. They are refurbished, slightly better, and catchier variations of what there was in the 90s and early 2000s; this includes more staying power with the trove of singles that became monster hits. But unlike these new artists, the kind of dominance and perseverance these songs have had to stay relevant.

Some of these notable songs and artists include: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel65, Darude’s “Sandstorm,” and “Rhythm Is A Dancer,” by Snap! One could go on and on about how many of these artists we have had in that time frame, but it’s easier for you to tunnel down that rabbit hole filled with awe and whimsy; the kind of whimsy that Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” brings. That whimsy delivers on other occasions, like the memory of a certain song’s peak on mainstream and hearing it on car rides that played Hot 100 radio.

Some of us remember them for that one song, while others have had a continuous appreciation for their later work; particularly those in Europe. The same goes for other artists, like A Touch of Class or Alice DJ. They leave isolated hits that can turn up the dance floor at any themed party, with an isolated few aging gracefully to stay in the rotation with today’s music. Fortunately, these European artists benefited from the influence it had on American pop stars like Madonna, Cher, and Brittany Spears, with the latter of the two releasing pure Electro-Pop/House albums. I could go on and on about the kind of stimulation this music brought the club when the wavering punk rock scene started to slowly begin its hibernation. And like a bear, we fortunate enough to have them keep waking up and delivering detailed memories of the past.

These songs eventually became epitomized with social trends like Throwback-Thursday and more. With the massive reach from these social media platforms, it has allowed for natural growth in that intoxicating feeling nostalgia delivers. It’s a syndrome filled with intoxicating electronic sounds and swinging grooves. And there is no cure, except for dancing it out. So come dance with me, as we listen to dance songs throughout the years. 

Artist Profile – Nora Van Elken

Nora Van Elken may not be the most well known amongst her peers, but she has been exponentially growing uniquely within the otherwise colorful deep house and downtempo music. She breaches different territories by allowing her own distinct vocals to have a sense of confidence within, specifically in her debut album and covers, as well as having a beautiful array of conceptual projects. But amongst the plethora of music she has put out, there are few projects of note to check out by this unique house artist, who on her own has made some bold moves in the music she made covers for and remixed, as well changing her musical landscape to be adjunct with the culture that influences it.

The self-titled Nora Van Elken is her only work that has a consistent sonic landscape that emboldens EDM styles. The illustrious percussion notes take you on a trip through an elegant array of one-two steps and upper body dance movement-music, though at times falling into a wrought dance music consistency; it is a unique piece of work that shows an organic evolution, if you start with this and head in a chronological direction. Some of the qualities from the EDM genre have transitioned over, specifically in the elevated and polished percussion pattern, that is mixed prominent in the sonic landscape of soul and jazz/funk music.

The percussion has been a prominent feature; specifically in the way the genre has been able to create more melodic depth into the kind of sonic infusions we get, especially within the singles and EPs she has released as well. The percussion is oftentimes a more chill and relaxed genre (comparatively), but the focus on the percussion to keep a consistent dance vibe, even if you’re doing it alone in your room. And other times her music carries a vibe that doesn’t fully bring you to that headspace, instead giving you an array of elegant production for a calm summer day at that park or sitting on your porch, under an awning, in the middle of a rainy day. That is what her two subsequent albums are.

Skyforest, the follow up to her self titled debut, brings a kind sonic energy that evokes styles in-line with sounds that seems to reveal more unique constructs of a deep house and EDM that is focused more on atmosphere than forcing a dance structure. The smooth transitions are what keep it deterring itself from her vision. And though not every track is perfect on this LP there is a lot to like. One beautiful standout is “Borneo,” which bridges the two different sonic atmospheres by a simple overlay in the synths at the beat drop. It is very different and at times similar to this followup, Sakura, where at times on Skyforest you’ll hear some organic and authentic forest sounds that bring more life, like how Sakura does with Japanese music.

Sakura influence lies in the unique sonic textures of cultural Japan, like high-pitched flutes, somber piano keys, and string orchestration adjunct to their style of musical theater. It is one of the more calm LPs in her collection as its focus goes beyond a consistent sound, and is an overall sonic concept, like Skyforest. It’s hard to make something profound and perfect with a sonic concept because it requires the same, if not more meticulous attention to detail as opposed to artists who do lyrically conceptual work, where the instrumental comes as slightly second nature. Sakura is her best project out of the three albums, mostly because of the intricate detail behind the production and sticking true to the concept in a nuanced manner. 

Outside of her three albums, she has, on Youtube and unfortunately not on streaming platforms, a deep house mixtape filled with a plethora of mixed and unreleased material, that is in part a gift for the fans and as well a slight showcase of her technical and musical skills. This is similarly the case with the choices she makes for covers and remixes, which have brought about a different confidence in her artistry by taking on some high-power pop hits like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.” They may not be everyone’s cup of tea because of the house direction to the original instrumentations, but they don’t take the stage away from the key parts of the instrumentation that make those tracks well known, like the acoustic guitar in the chorus of “Here Comes The Sun.”

Nora Van Elken was a great surprise to discover as the Breaking Dance playlist on Apple Music and diving into her music was an astronomical feeling of wows and musical glee. The way she mixes and orchestrates her music shows continuous promise as she grows and hopefully becomes a mainstay in house and electronic music.

Porter Robinson – Nurture: Review

Porter Robinson has always stood out from some of the newer electronic artists emerging today. He has this ear for music where he can learn, adapt, and create these intricate electronic numbers that keep you in somewhat of a consistent awe. His debut Worlds showed his versatility with its array of bass heavy electronic music, most of which stemmed from a genre he coined as complextro (glitchy heavy bass at 130 BPM). His follow up, Nurture, is a complete shift for Porter as he breaks down barriers and delivers an array of beautifully complex and melancholic production, steering away from aspects of the complextro – sonic structure.

Nurture is in many ways different from Worlds. With a grounded concept it keeps a consistent sonic tone, even when it branches out with some naturalistic glitch-pop. This is a testament to Porter Robinson’s intuitive style flourishes from the production’s key attention to distinguishing itself from the rest. However, the one constant that brings a different light to this is the use of organic nature sounds as the sprinkles for this electronic sundae. 

The standard BPM is a different shift, as well, with an uptick in its varying levels for the track. It mostly keeps at the average pop levels of 115, but sometimes it flows up and down with loops, like a beautifully scenic roller coaster trail; and the cars is the engineer showing, or in this case, hearing the final products. The way it blends, like that, allows the atmospheric overtones to emboss itself with glittery synths and glitchy electronic analog instruments, specifically on the track “Wind Tempos,” which is an escalating instrumental of pure glitch-bliss.

While some tracks, like “Wind Tempos,” and “Get Your Wish,” break from some songs of the stylistic consistencies, like atmosphere, for a delivery of unique sonic constructs that make up Nurture – i.e. glitch-pop and electro-pop. It allows the creative freedom to breathe through Porter Robinson’s mind as the music catches our attention quickly through a hidden power, known as melancholy. “Mirror,” boasts that complex layering with key twists on the verses that elevates the dance status, keeping it in line with some of the other danceable numbers on the album. 

Nurture’s array of full-bodied highlights of commanding swoons from piano keys and synths, like on “Look At The Sky.” Porter modulates his voice to add a layer above his keen falsetto to deliver a beautiful electronic ballad about hope, particularly with the stress coming from comparisons to the early predecessors. Ironically, the album demonstrates a new level of quality from an artist with immense potential; and this album might fall into being a hidden gem for the ever-growing landscape, specifically with the varying genre-bending sounds that sometimes contrast the mood evoked from the lyrics. 

“Something Comforting” mirrors a beautiful sentiment to the kind of struggles a human being can go through, even when we only see them at a surface layer. The track’s production has an escalating tempo that leads to a dynamic drop, which plays into the comfort zone (sonically) that Porter puts himself in with his piano. Like some of the other tracks, this gives us a solid collection of tracks that work for sad-dancing, mood-trends, and maintaining a nuanced production landscape.

From “Sweet Time” to The Kero Kero Bonito lead-sampled track, “Musician,” the vocals become a dominating focus, as the production fits with the ambiance of the sonic themes. The melancholic approach carries over on a lot of tracks, including “Sweet Time,” and that is where Porter’s vocals shine. It doesn’t match wits with the vibrant vocals from Sarah Bonito on “Musician,” but that is due to the modulations lacking depth as we don’t hear his pain and anguish, as opposed to “Something Comforting.” Fortunately the album ends on a high note with two glamorous hybrids in “Unfold,” which has elements of EDM and House, and “Trying To Be Alive,” which is a beautiful sad-dance closer that contains elements of synth-pop and EDM.

Nurture shows an artist growing into his own, after contemplating about his person and the kind of music he makes. It is more adjunct than Worlds when building upon themes and sonic structures and it shows with Porter Robinson’s wall breaking on the grassy plains. This album has a designed mood, and it delivers it with enough consistency and virtuoso to keep afloat amongst the other electronic artists with bigger platforms.

Rating: 8 out of 10.