Avicii in The NY Times!
The Swedish D.J. Avicii has released his debut album.
America has no real radio infrastructure for dance music, which means even a song like “Levels” has little hope of moving beyond the Electric Daisy Carnival circuit and into the broader pop consciousness, although everywhere else that’s exactly where it resided. At least in this country, American sonic imperialism still works.
But a lot has changed since “Levels.” Dance music is becoming normalized, even here, and has been seeping into other genres, from traditional pop to R&B. D.J.-producers like Calvin Harris, by working with superstars like Rihanna, are beginning to gain a dollop of the respect they garner elsewhere.
Into that environment arrives Avicii’s full-length debut album, “True” (PRMD/Island), which, thanks to the success of “Levels,” has the whiff of a fait accompli about it. At least it did until the Ultra Music Festival in March, when Avicii turned his high-profile set into a roots jam session, to the befuddlement of almost everyone, and the outright anger of many. I’m sure someone would have screamed “Judas!” if they’d gotten the joke.
“Hey, you got your bluegrass in my techno!” is a perfectly valid complaint most of the time. And yes, on a few songs on “True,” with the help of the bluegrass stalwart Dan Tyminski and the longtime country songwriter Mac Davis, that is more or less what Avicii attempts.
But don’t see “True” as the album in which dance music imports the sounds of the American heartland into the club in hopes of digging up new audiences, or even new ideas; see it as the one in which country takes its place front and center in global pop.
That is the subtext of the guitar-laden stomper “Wake Me Up,” already another huge hit that undermines American centrality in global pop, and especially the unexpectedly lovely “Hey Brother,” which features the keening vocals of Mr. Tyminski. (How much of a risk is it to use the main voice from an album, the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, that has sold over seven million copies in the United States?)
Even though they’re unexpected twists in Avicii’s otherwise clean ascent, these songs don’t arrive in a vacuum. They sit comfortably next to the king-size crossover country and folk of recent years — think Mumford & Sons, or the dubstep song on the last Taylor Swift album. Even Keith Urban has a fake club song on his new album. And that’s to say nothing of the emergent trend of club remixes of country hits by the likes of Dee Jay Silver and DJ DU. (And yes, there was disco-country in the 1970s, for what it’s worth.)
Marry that to the recent impulse among a certain more classicist stripe of dance-music act to bring the genre back to organic roots — Daft Punk’s last album repudiates the last couple of decades of computer music — and Avicii’s musical choices feel savvy and timely. (Along with the selections of his manager, Ash Pournouri, who receives a writing credit on almost every song on this album.)
That Avicii is testing himself, and his public, is clear. “Heart Upon My Sleeve,” which features vocals from Dan Reynolds of the alt-rock preservers Imagine Dragons, opens up like an acoustic Queensryche song. “Shame on Me” is swing music, more or less, and a less successful hybrid than Avicii’s roots experiments.
Compared with “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother,” the rest of “True” doesn’t offer much challenge, even if it is thoroughly effective in places. “Dear Boy” is completely straightforward electro-infused house, and it’s sharp. “Lay Me Down,” produced in part by Nile Rodgers, who is having a banner year, and featuring a bracing vocal by Adam Lambert, is completely valid modern disco, faithful to the genre as it once was but not a slavish throwback. It’s another escape into yesteryear by an artist carrying today — and tomorrow — on his shoulders.
Read the full article here.