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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Record Routine: Kaskade melds pop and electronic on sub-par 'Automatic'

Kaskade’s most recent album, Automatic, released on September 25, provides his familiar, attention-grabbing appeal diverged with splashes of experimentation and genre blending. Many of the songs on the album are short, and feature a typical commercial EDM sound, consisting of heavy synths and electronic sounding drums, up-tempo and backed with a huge, catchy chorus. Some features shine more than others, and some sonic decisions were better executed, providing for an overall mixed emotion on the album as a whole project.

It would be easy to say that when Kaskade diverged from his typical and familiar EDM sound, it did not go over well. Unfortunately, some experiments in genre melding sounded better or provided a better experience than others. The seventh track, “Never Sleep Alone (feat. Tess Comrie),” feels as though Kaskade can do no wrong in terms of listenability. The chorus and beat-drops so far have been expected, grandiose and filled with energy. When beginning this song, it feels like it will follow the same formula. However, this track is the first to feature a glaring misstep of trying too hard to be progressive, featuring an intense house-style drop with an organ and lower-octave steel drum synths. It takes away from the good buildup with reverbed plucking guitar and electronic synth, along with some skilled vocals from Tess Comrie.

Another divergence from EDM includes the trance-like, alternative-pop track, “Breaking Up (feat. Scott Shepard).” The sad, emotional wailing over constant drums and another out-of-place, forced drop, combined with the cliché story the lyrics portray, create a forgettable and skippable track in what would otherwise be a continuous stretch of good songs.

Some of the average, middle-of-the-road songs include the opening track, “We Don’t Stop.” The track is very representative of the album: a layered buildup, including stringed—in this case guitar—chords with synth sounds intertwined, some up-tempo snare drums and an intense electronic drop. These complex and layered sounds are paired with empty and open lyrics that are usually too transparent.

“Tear Down These Walls (feat. Tamra Keenan)” is a little more poppy, with the piano chords more predominantly featured, and the drop being a little more low-key and groovy. The drop comes after the chorus and allows, for better or for worse, the repetition of “Tear down these walls,” now engraved in the listener's mind. The second track, “Us (feat. CID)” has a clubby, synth-heavy drop, typical of what one would expect from Kaskade, but is a good song overall; it’s up-tempo, sexy and filled with emotion.

When a song or moment caught my attention, it was due to a good use of feature, a mood that was evoked or an interesting sound change. “Phoenix (feat. Sasha Sloan)” is pretty poppy in comparison to the first four tracks. It’s stripped back and lacks a big drop, but still features a catchy chorus. “Day Trippin’ (feat. Estelle)” really utilizes Estelle’s feature and sounds great harmonizing with herself. This is also another step in the pop direction, but it still feels electronic. The biggest change in sound was on “Papercuts (feat. Two Nations).” The guitar is the featured instrument, and the song is more of an alternative pop song than anything else.

Overall, if you are looking for a typical EDM record with big choruses and built-up electronic synthesizers all the way through, you will be surprised by some of the elements of this record. Kaskade blends will his typical up-tempo electronic dance music with elements of pop, trance and alternative. He combines catchy, yet transparent, choruses with dance music and makes it into something that is listenable throughout. While nothing inevitably reaches out and grabs me from this album, nothing is noticeably hindering its overall up-tempo and groovy vibe.

 Grade: B-

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