Kaskade ‘Fire & Ice’ album review: a track-by-track breakdown (Exclusive)
In the teaser video for Fire & Ice, Kaskade says the album “represents the last ten years of [his] career.” It’s been a wild ride for the producer and DJ, going from quietly releasing deep-house grooves like “It’s You, It’s Me” to dropping “Raining” in front of packed stadiums filled with devoted fans during this summer’s Identity Festival Tour. As Kaskade’s career has grown, so too have his musical horizons, and Fire & Ice (his seventh full album) is a testament to his incredible evolution as an artist and DJ.
The release hinges on a unique yet fitting premise. Each song appears twice — once with a more uptempo, fuller “Fire” mix, contrasted by a stripped-down “Ice” version. The dual disc offering serves as an homage to his deep-house roots and more laid-back production tendencies with side project Late Night Alumni, but simultaneously acknowledge his evolution into a super-producer and influencer. Collaborations with Dada Life and Skrillex show how attuned Kaskade is to the dance music being played alongside his; Skrillex’s wobbly dubstep flourishes lend a surprising edge to “Lick It,” but also feel right at home alongside electro-tinged tracks like “Lessons in Love.” But enough of our teasing — see how it all comes together in our full review below.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Fire & Ice is the way it affects the listener. Haley’s stunning vocals on “Llove,” for example, become even more arresting when laid over the Ice mix’s simple hand-clap beat, challenging and inviting listeners to deconstruct exactly what makes Kaskade’s songs work as well as they do. The album also questions music’s many genre distinctions by combining his signature sexy vocals and piano strains with both hard baselines and simple strings. Kaskade’s Ice mix of “Room for Happiness,” with Skylar Grey’s gorgeous vocals, sounds more like a single off Adele’s 21 than a remix of a dance track.
Some fans of Kaskade’s recent albums, in which party-ready tracks like “Dynasty” reigned, may be confused by his foray into lower BPMs. However, when considered as Fire/Ice pairs, the album affords the amazing opportunity to get inside Kaskade’s mind as a producer and artist. And that’s an opportunity too good to pass up.
We’ve been listening to the album for the better part of a week, and have broken down Fire & Ice track by track, pitting the Fire and Ice mixes against one another to see how each album stacks up.
By now, everyone’s heard “Eyes,” Kaskade’s emotional take on a summer banger. It’s progressive house at its finest, with breathy vocals and a euphoric drop. The Ice mix brings the slow, sexy vocals to center stage. A distant piano and stripped-down beat are the only accompaniment needed.
Winner: Fire. It’s hard to compete with an anthem.
“Turn It Down”
Sure, we may not understand the lyrics entirely, but thankfully we don’t need to. Rebecca & Fiona’s smooth voices glide over Kaskade’s synths beautifully in the Fire mix, which has been a top track in the DA labs as of late. The Ice mix does one better, however, with deep piano chords giving way to a surprise dubstep interlude. The sheer surprise of Kaskade throwing the dubby break into an otherwise chill, down-tempo track shows how far he’s come as a producer and member of the dance music scene.
Winner: Tie. Dubstep shock factor = impressive.
“Lessons in Love”
Simply put, this song is going to be huge. It has all the makings of a radio smash: Neon Trees frontman Tyler Glenn belts out vocals that beg to be sung along with, with hard-edged synths that challenge you to keep your fists from pumping. “Lessons in Love” has the most explosive, anthemic chorus on the album, and, while it’s likely to be remixed by other DJs, none will come close to the killer original. Same goes for the Ice mix: it’s a light, innocuous track with none of Glenn’s vocals or Kaskade’s usual flair. It doesn’t seem to relate or respond to the Fire mix.
Winner: Fire. This thing is begging for radio play.
This track is incredibly unexpected and pretty much irresistible. Kaskade and Skrillex are unlikely collaborators, but the success of this track quells any doubts about their compatibility as producers. “Lick It” begins with a bass-heavy disco groove, and gives way to an all-out party. Skrillex adds wobbly flourishes and a dramatic break-down, while the retro sexiness and “Pjanoo”-esque build-up is all Kaskade. The Ice mix is based on the aforementioned breakdown, but is comparatively uninspired. The generic, almost ambient track leaves much to be desired relative to its Fire counterpart. (Editors Note: We love the way Kaskade talks about Skrillex’s wobbly beats in this promo video.)
Winner: Fire. Kaskade and Skrillex come together… and you thought we’d choose downtempo?
After what feels like countless tracks together, Kaskade and Haley are a perfect pair. He knows just what to do with her voice for maximum dance floor impact. On the Fire mix, her vocals are coupled with classic big-room pianos and a swirling synth line, creating a classically Kaskade mood. The Ice mix tries a more adventurous route, with claps galore and a sultry, bouncy baseline giving Haley’s voice a snake charmer-like vibe. Definitely a departure from prior Haley collaborations like “Move for Me” and “Don’t Stop Dancing.”
Winner: Ice. Hot damn.
“Let Me Go”
Kaskade reunites with “Stars Align” vocalist Marcus Bently on this hypnotic track. We love the plucky guitar melody and Bently’s subtly brilliant lyrics (“I said to myself, let me go?” Kind of thought-provoking). The vocals are laid over a more moody, super-slow guitar in the Ice version, creating a ballad that sounds a lot like early Coldplay. Pretty impressive.
Winner: Fire. (By a little.)
The Fire version of this song, which has vocals from Coco of Dutch duo Quadron, sounds a bit more generic than is to be expected. It’s light and easy, but it’s almost as though Coco’s vocals have little to rest on. The Ice version feels deeper and more fully executed: a pulsing beat and fat piano helps the Ice version live up to our (admittedly high) expectations for a Kaskade song.
Dada Life’s remix of “Dynasty” was a club killer, and we guess Kaskade realized this just like the rest of us. He paired with the Swedes to create “Ice,” which sounds a good deal like “Dynasty” — not that we mind. The stringy synths and easily singable chorus make this a likely club favorite, though we wish the vocals went a bit harder. The Ice version maintains Fire’s tempo, but strips away most everything else. Ice’s melody does feel more soulful, and the drop is quintessential Kaskade, but the mix loses all of its Dada hype.
Kaskade chooses his collaborators wisely here: his band Late Night Alumni and Inpetto work together to create both an atmosphere and story. This pair of songs sounds the most alike of any Fire/Ice duo on the album, though the Ice mix has a low-key vibe compared to the Fire version’s more danceable beat. Each track is a good listen, but ultimately the pair is forgettable compared to some other songs on the album.
“Room for Happiness”
The Fire mix of this Skylar Grey track is classic Kaskade: a soaring beat, feel-good vibe, and, of course, Grey’s amazing vocals. But the Ice mix sounds the least like Kaskade of any track on the CD, and that’s ultimately the more impressive feat. Grey’s vocals don’t need much help, so Kaskade keeps it simple: a piano and some dramatic strings. That’s it. “Room for Happiness” comes off more like a song by Adele or a less cracked-out Amy Winehouse than one of Kaskade’s many female vocalists. It’s by no means dance music, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. The track is jaw-droppingly beautiful, regardless of its genre.
Winner: Ice. Heart-wrenching and perfect.
Though both albums are unique and a pleasure to listen to, we have to give the award to Fire. With 6.5 wins to the Ice version’s 3.5, the Fire side ultimately beat out its lower-key counterpart. The songs are all worth a listen in Fire/Ice pairs, but each of the albums is incredibly cohesive as well. While Fire won out over Ice, Kaskade — and his fans — are the real winners here.
Get Kaskade’s Fire & Ice on iTunes October 24, and everywhere else November 8.