Take your average electro artist, and he’ll be the equivalent of a decent rock band. That’d make German EDM artist Zedd the equivalent of an orchestra. His debut album, Clarity, displays some of the finest music that EDM has to offer, whether in the form of progressive electro, vocal electro or complextro. (Yep, all “-lectro” derivatives.) Comprised mostly of soaring vocals, fuzzy synths and complex bass hooks, this album is one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a long time.
Zedd got his beginnings with some decent complextro, heavily influenced by artists such as Wolfgang Gartner. (Complextro is a subgenre of electro music defined by melodic and complex bass lines, originaly coined by Wolfgang Gartner.) This influence is definitely noticeable on Clarity, mostly on straight-up bangers like “Shave It Up” and “Stache.” The guy definitely knows what sounds good in a concert or party setting, as I’m sure these songs are crazily popular at his concerts as a result of their memorable hooks and wall-shaking basslines.
However, Zedd’s best tunes are definitely his vocal electro tracks. While you don’t hear vocals too often in electro (while they’re found more often in dubstep or trance), they work incredibly well here. Due to some connections in Skrillex’s label, OWSLA, he’s fetched some great vocal talent to complement his instrumentation, including British singers Foxes and Ellie Goulding. These combinations work so well that you really just have to listen to them. Zedd knows exactly how to balance the soaring vocals and his own electronic sounds so that they’re both prevalent, yet never overshadowing each other. He also knows exactly what sounds to use and when to use them to display the emotions of his songs effortlessly, whether it be a bittersweet love song or an on-top-of-the-world feeling.
Zedd completely avoids “Where-Have-I-Heard-This-Before Syndrome” with chord progressions that are mostly unfamiliar, yet easy to follow. Better yet, the first time through, you’ll probably lift your head up a few times when you hear a chord you didn’t see coming, then smile as you enjoy something you earnestly haven’t heard before. (Wait, maybe this is just what I did.)
As to be expected with a secular EDM album, Zedd’s music falls somewhat short in the department of lyrics. However, there are some moments when the songwriting does well, most noticeably on the songs “Hourglass” and “Clarity.” The lyrics on their own are nothing worth getting terribly excited (or emotional) about, but combined with Zedd’s masterful instrumentation, they really become something memorable. Still, none of them broach any new territory, mostly falling into the broad categories of “regret songs,” “love songs” and “songs that you can’t decide whether they’re highly artistic or just meaningless.”
“Hourglass” is one of my favorite electro tracks ever. This bittersweet vocal and piano-driven masterpiece is the definite highlight of the album.
“Shave It Up” shows off Zedd’s considerable complextro chops at their best, with memorable bass lines and synths aplenty.
“Epos,” the album closer, shows some softer electro, combined with complextro and a unique chord progression for a unique and memorable track.
“Lost At Sea” is a decent song, but the lackluster songwriting and bland melodies single it out starkly against the rest of the album.
“Codec” has an interesting melody, but the drops seem underproduced and the melodies too simple to live up to the tracks around it.
With Clarity, Zedd has certainly made himself noticeable in the EDM community, with his own unique takes on vocal electro and complextro. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the best debuts I’ve seen in a long time, and possibly my favorite EDM album.
9 out of 10 stars.