For a genre built on repetitive kick drums and formulaic drops, electronic music has an obsession with diversity.
Recent albums from the upper class of mainstream EDM — Jack Ü, DJ Snake and Zeds Dead — are littered with a mish-mash disparate sounds and features. Why not throw a festival trap banger featuring 2 Chainz on the same album as a Justin Bieber-starring pop hit? Or blend the percussive stomp of big room house with the bright, shiny synths of '80s-styled pop music?
This "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" mentality is fairly new. EDM has been attracting hordes of neon-clad fans to shows and festivals for years now, but electronic music as we know it today only became an "album genre" in the last couple of years. Prior to that, sites like Soundcloud and Beatport made singles and maybe the occasional EP the format of choice for DJs and producers everywhere.
The transition from singles to albums has been a tough one. After all, it's a lot harder to make 10 or 15 good songs than it is to make one.
Last week, Toronto dance music duo Zeds Dead released their debut album — seven years after releasing their first song. The group's music has always blended sounds and subgenres, but their latest, Northern Lights, takes the contrasting sounds to a new extreme.
Exhibit one: "Too Young," featuring Rivers Cuomo and Pusha T. And yes, it's every bit as bad as it sounds.
The song features nauseating saloon piano, weird stabs of day-glo rave synths and middle-of-the-road performances by Weezer frontman Cuomo and cocaine connoisseur Pusha T. In three minutes, it illustrates the biggest problem with Northern Lights and EDM albums in general: They can't make up their damn minds. Even trap forefather RL Grime's 2014 album Void, while thematically consistent, suffered from its desire to include a number of different genres, styles and guest vocalists.
Of course, there are a couple legitimate reasons for EDM's indecisiveness. Firstly, producers are just that: producers. They rarely contribute their own vocals, so featured artists are the best way to get traditional melodies and engaging lyrics into their music. Unfortunately, unless it's a full-length collaboration, like Jeremih and Shlohmo's No More EP, guest singers and rappers often give EDM albums a scattered feel, like a snapshot of popular music without any of the artist's personal context. Not to mention that the desire to blend genres and vibes makes sense in dance music. DJs have long been cutting together and mashing up songs of every sort. Early EDM trendsetters like DJ AM drew inspiration from every corner of popular music, and even Zeds Dead's DJ sets combine rave music, club music and hip-hop in a seamless, fist-pumping package.
And in a live setting, with an overly-excited, underage/under-the-influence crowd, the all-over-the-place vibe of festival EDM can be thrilling. But as a template for albums — it just doesn't work. There are good songs on these albums, but they'd almost always be better as singles. And while producers, compelled by the music industry to be serious artists, continue to make albums, maybe they will find themselves instead of getting lost in the process.