‘True’: Avicii’s brave and unbounded debut fortifies dance music’s win column [Album Review]
On Friday March 22nd, 2013, dance music heavyweight Avicii embarked upon Ultra Music Festival’s Main Stage (the same stage that had controversially united him with Madonna one year earlier), with a start-to-finish final product of what would become his debut studio album. Coming after “Levels,” his inarguable magnum opus that remarkably shed a new light on electronic production in 2010, would be considered one of the most anticipated dance records not named Random Access Memories of the decade.
This would’ve been the fate of the hype for Tim Bergling’s first ever full-length album, but Avicii’s Ultra follow up effort was remembered more as a stunt than as a successful album premiere, despite featuring music legends and live instrumentation. It’s no secret that fans were taken back, and that the collection of music that would eventually become the album was heavily criticized. It would be picked at for its genre experimentation with country, although the final product is far more than a country sampling or two. It was bashed for its use of banjo and bluegrass twang, ironically from the same vultures who would’ve pulled out their torches and pitchforks if the sound was rather, god forbid, pop. The Swede-heart was off to a shaky start with his debut campaign; one far from indicative of the quality of its content.
The success of Avicii’s new sound would soon come. On June 17th, “Wake Me Up” was delivered to radio stations around the world as the album’s first single. It was one of the songs that had rolled out with Tim’s controversial Ultra dice. Fans had judged blindlessly, but now they had to listen. “Wake Me Up” was being heard around the world and couldn’t be escaped – and now millions of people, from fan faithfuls to Avicii abandoners, along with countless complete strangers to EDM — were faced with the truth. Aptly titled, Tim’s True is just that.
After “Wake Me Up’s” chart-smashing success, it’s been difficult to determine where the production’s loyalty remains, balancing folk influences and commercial-dance chords alike. When taken into consideration, however, how rarely a vocal country song of its ilk receives airtime in major cities amongst mainstream outlets even beyond radio, it becomes evidence that Avicii pushed this one forward himself rather than leaning on another sound’s previous success. By the time Katy Perry’s “Roar” knocks nearly every other hit off the radio rotation, imitations will arise from dance progressions, not country singers; which speaks volumes about the allure of “Wake Me Up.”
Avicii – Wake Me Up (ft. Aloe Blacc)
The second track and sophomore single, “You Make Me,” represents an equilibrium of Avicii’s tastes and techinques on the album. The vocals from Salem Al Fakir avoid folk connotation while tip-toeing around pop stigma with an alternative attitude. The chords come as some of the few signature layers used on True, and play friendly atop the deeper rhythm-laden bassline.
Avicii – You Make Me (ft. Salem Al Fakir)
“You Make Me” may have not been a game changer in terms of its Ultra debut, but the third track was. For many in attendance, “Hey Brother,” was that track that cut the Main Stage crowd’s dancing with a tempo slow enough to keep feet still and a serenade from Dan Tyminski. This effort is high quality, creative, and certainly worthy of a listen, but is the record that could be solely responsible of the initial country typecasting. This time around, wiser fans will ignore that stigma as the album’s stronger cuts soon unfold.
Avicii – Hey Brother
Further drawing emotion, the Mac Davis assisted “Addicted To You” paints a sorrowful story with instruments more often used for brighter sounds. Audra Mae, however, gives the unique production is given its character with an indie-inspired vocal and singing reminiscent of her southern-bred roots. These feelings continue straight through to the next track, “Dear Boy,” which follows suit with heart-warming appeal and well executed vocals, serving as the progressive turning point for True.
Avicii – Addicted To You (ft. Audra Mae)
“Liar Liar” comes next, a production that hasn’t gained the notoriety of its counterparts, fueled the rumor mil, nor saturated Avicii’s live routines. The collaboration with Incubus’ Mike Einziger is the first taste of an all encompassing record produced by Tim Bergling. Given all the resources, juxtaposition is masterfully utilized with the album’s tone going up against playful keys and Einziger’s fierce shouts balancing serenade from Aloe Blacc on one of her few appearances. The rock influence of “Liar Liar” itself outweighs the banjo strumming of previous tracks and in fact resets the album’s tone.
Avicii – Liar Liar (ft. Mike Einziger)
“I never dreamed of making music on this level,” Avicii told Rolling Stone nearly a month ago. He was talking about the next two records; his collaborations with Nile Rodgers. First comes “Shame On Me,” where Nile’s funky bass riffs are instantly recognizable, as is Avicii’s harmonic bridging; an artistic tug-of-war with nostalgia ranging from Harlem Renaissance jazz to progressive bluegrass (which, in lieu of the album, should be referred to as nu-grass).
Arguably the most finely tuned record on True, “Lay Me Down” has Rodgers summoning his disco dominating days with a Chic-esque bassline and Adam Lambert providing timeless vocals in the vein of some of the greatest singers to lace the genre’s hits during the booming 70s. Avicii connects the dots with his gifted sense for octave, finding the perfect home for his creative aesthetic. He may not have won a Grammy for “Levels,” but “Lay Me Down” has a good shot at earning a golden gramophone as it pays homage to Nile Rodgers’ testament: “Tim will do stuff that, honestly, I would’ve never thought of.” Coming from a disco legend and recent Daft Punk collaborator, Nile aims to shape another generation of music, and “Lay Me Down” is a step forward even following “Lose Yourself To Dance.”
Avicii – Lay Me Down (ft. Nile Rodgers & Adam Lambert)
Collaborators play important roles on the latter portion of the album, but Avicii allows his evolved sound to shine while bringing the tone of True to the forefront. “Hope There’s Someone” has the Swede digging for his deepest bassline, crafting a thematic and theatric score; a tune fit for his fans new and old. The uplifting elements are succeeded by the dark, even villainous production of “Heart Upon My Sleeve,” a climactic, electro-rock thumper boosted by vocals from Imagine Dragons.
Avicii – Heart Upon My Sleeve (ft. Imagine Dragons)
Delving into the iTunes bonus cuts Audra Mae re-enters the scene on “Long Road To Hell,” one of the album’s hits that have helped shaped Avicii’s live sets since March. Animated and suitable for dance floor translation, its one-two punch of nu-grass and classic Avicii chord work provokes frenetic, cartoonish visuals — ones similar to those that’ve been used for its festival showcases.
Avicii – Long Road To Hell (ft. Audra Mae)
True wraps up with “EDOM,” one of the most highly anticipated Avicii productions, which began as an ID and followed his then-most impressive, mysterious drops like “Levels” or “Nicktim.” It doesn’t fit the mold of the aforementioned hits, but concludes True as the sum of its parts. Reminiscent of a victory lap with its orchestral chords and fine production, each element of the 8-minute “EDOM” represents a theme of True and reveals Avicii’s talents unmasked.
Avicii – EDOM (Original Mix)
“I wanted to make real music, in a sense. And I wanted every track to be a single.” Well, Avicii certainly achieved his goal. Not only does each track have that potential to be a radio single, but they even appeal to electronic music fans that once used Avicii and his music as a punching bag for commercial dance.
Sonic illustration, timeless sounds, genre defiance, and unflawed production best describe Tim’s debut studio album, but it also reveals his intangibles that cannot be heard on headphones. Avicii has overcome one of the genre’s most joked about stigmas, and he’s done so using his own rulebook and a bold pair of dice. Taking a risk amid pop-integration caution, True is a demonstration of Tim’s brave artistic moves, where he aligned himself with some of the most creative living musicians. In turn, he has advanced dance music with records that reach and impress not only his current fan base, but an untapped general public who can now find a place for themselves in electronic music.
Dance music hopefuls have something to be proud of with True, an hour of excellence that abolishes a stigma and contends with any other album release this year. Avicii deserves an applause, and whether you lend him one or not, his album will be hailed as nothing less than what it is — the full-length debut of EDM’s most celebrated producer.