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 Weeknd – Dawn FM: Review

We’ve taken an exhaustively fun and thrilling ride from his debut to After Hours; from a front-row seat, we hear The Weeknd encapsulate and transition into 80s nostalgia with composure as the adrenaline rushes high. But The Weeknd, along with co-producers, don’t let nostalgia shroud over the complexities to keep sonic sensibilities modern. Dawn FM continues that, and more effectively. In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.

Fans of The Weeknd are no stranger to his idolization of actor/comedian Jim Carrey and his soft-tender-NPR-like vocals add visceral layers to the slight melancholic sounds for the dance floor. As it transitions from the intro, Carrey’s vocals remind us what’s arriving: an album reminiscent of the deep cuts from the genres from where he’s taking influence. However, more surprises come from its slight detachment from the first single, “Take Me Breath.” 

Calling the sounds of Dawn FM melancholic, I’ll put, my perspective speaks on the vagueness of the sound in comparison to past productions. We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes. It comes after the darkly-digital electronic track “How Do I Make You Love Me,” as it weaves these hypnotic melodies with the multi-layered production. It’s a testament to the producers and engineers to craft an album, where if you have your transition setting to zero seconds, it brings one constant flow from start to finish.

Despite some of the dance floor coating, it plays like listening to a late-night station focused on delivering danceable vibes while keeping your head afloat through the depth of the songwriting, interludes, and production style. Like I’ve mentioned before, The Weeknd has been through countless trials and tribulations, akin to a consistent lifestyle he has portrayed. He’s never shied away from it, and frankly, we have gotten some of his biggest hits, like “Party Monster” and “Low Life,” from it. However, shit starts coming back around, and he’s finding himself in purgatory lamenting. Like his album cover, interjecting thoughts of his wrongs with little rights create an embodiment of a man stuck in the dark. The potent lyrics are as effective as the melodies, which The Weeknd brings plenty.

“Is There Someone Else?” for example, see The Weeknd reflecting on a nudge that has him seeing his partner finding comfort in someone else after constant fighting within their relationship. On the surface, we hear these regrets, his lack of understanding, and that unbearable weight as he tries to define himself. But one thing kept rattling through my head – how does it weave together in the bigger picture? “Less Than Zero” sees The Weeknd adding another dimension to his person, and part of it comes from understanding both perspectives. On “Less Than Zero,” The Weeknd sings: “Remember I was your hero, yeah/I’d wear your heart like a symbol/I couldn’t save you from my darkest truth of all/I know/I’ll always be less than zero,” which could symbolize a few things – his infidelity or his lifestyle.

The Weeknd isn’t always headstrong, but the production doesn’t sway you in opposing directions. The production for Dawn FM comes primarily from Max Martin, The Weeknd, and Oneohtrix Point Never, with an occasional co-lead from Swedish House Mafia. The latter produces the second single and immediate standout, “Sacrifice.” The dazzling production takes a lot of cues from funk/synth-pop hybrids as it incorporates slick electric guitar riffs with a rustic gloss. Unfortunately, I can’t keep gushing about the album without noting what didn’t work for me: the features. Usually, a Weeknd song with a feature hits, or it doesn’t lower/raise the quality, but on Dawn FM, it’s one for two. Tyler, the Creator comes with a little of column A and column B, while Lil Wayne phases in and out. The album maybe could have flourished brighter if The Weeknd went solo. But that is neither here nor there because the features don’t completely diminish the return.

Dawn FM is nearly perfect, even when it is a little loaded with slightly weak archetypal hybrids near the end and one forgettable feature. I was left transfixed through this concept, and it plays to the strengths of the artist and producers. It will see steady rotation, especially as I, along with other fans, dance the night away.

Rating: 9 out of 10.