Tim Bergling, aka Avicii, has become one of the most divisive figures in new electronic music. His relatively quick rise to fame and coinciding corporate endorsements have made him the poster child for everything supposedly wrong in EDM culture- green talent, greed and a quick fix.
These perceptions have often pigeonholed dance music artists like Avicii into an ambiguous category. They are too mainstream to be underground, to underground to be mainstream. Those on both sides seem to agree on one thing- today's electronic dance music all sounds the same.
The arrival of True, Avicii’s full-length studio album, comes at a time where there is a perceived need to define electronic music in order to move the genre forward. It has gone from the warehouses to the festivals. The new questions are what’s next and how does it get there?
True might have some of the answers. Yes, Avicii has gone country, but that’s just start. On this album, he his able to successfully import folk, bluegrass, rockabilly, soul and disco to the world of electronic dance music.
To make it come together sounds impossible- but he is able to pull it off by rejecting what is considered 'core' and focusing instead on what he feels will work. He takes a big chance, but it is necessary, as many have grown weary of clichés sounds like the wobble of dubstep and the power drills of Dutch house.
To use an old country saying, ‘you keep doing what you’re doing you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting’. In order to create something fresh you have to switch it up. Avicii is able to break free of the stagnant energy found in modern dance music by bringing forth an under-utilized technique in the genre- song.
The album opens with the first single and summer hit “Wake Me Up”. When first played at Ultra Music Festival earlier this year, it was a sign that Avicii was on to something different- a heavily folk sound featuring the vocals of Stones Throw recording artist Aloe Blacc. Something different yes, but no one really knew what it was.
It's the third track,“Hey Brother”, that sets the tone for what is going what is ultimately a shocking triumph on True. The strumming guitar has you immediately thinking “Wake Me Up” Part Two, but it’s not. Dan Tyminski’s bellowing voice comes in eight counts deep and you are instantly taken to the roots of folk Americana. Yes, Dan Tyminski from “A Man Of Constant Sorrow” off of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.
Dan Tyminski. Not Chris Martin, Kelis, Ellie Goulding, Rihanna or any of the go-to vocalists electronic music artists rely on when trying to do something “different”. And yes, “strumming guitar” was just to describe a track on an EDM album.
Oh don’t worry, there’s plenty of modern EDM to go around. However on True the communal experience is not togetherness at a rave or a festival, but life’s joys and struggles shared through music. Avicii’s liberation of suppressed rock ‘n roll, folk and country rhythms showcases sounds most have heard all their lives. Combined with an EDM centric four-on-the-floor beat, suddenly they are relevant again.
Even disco makes an escape from its relative mainstream obscurity on “Lay Me Down” featuring Adam Lambert. It’s a cut up dance track that’s heavy on the Nile Rodgers and oozes the underground. If you fault Avicii for not having a grasp on dance music’s roots, this song is the counterpoint.
The stand out track on the album is “Addicted To You” featuring Oklahoma country singer Audra Mae. Her singing is immaculate and the energy of the track coincides perfectly with her voice. She reveals the subtle soul of country music that has been shrouded in pop culture’s 'I want it now' flash for so long.
True has its peaks and valleys like any good album should. It will certainly polarize fans of dance music. Those who look towards the future of EDM see the importance of an album like this. For those stuck somewhere in yesterday, the future is whatever continues to be the status quo.
Like or not, dance music is rapidly changing. Avicii’s True will likely be marked as one of the catalysts.