The last time I wrote about Avicii, I was lamenting how the young’n had totally infiltrated my very state of being as his emo-chic-electro ‘Fade Into Darkness’ was played out ad nauseum across cruddy PA systems throughout PA, driving that cloying tale of emancipation further and further into my every-waking-moment consciousness and fitful-sleep subconscious such that I couldn’t avoid the giddy lightness that came with reveling in the Swede’s house anthem of 2K11. I’m not quite sure how a man – effectively a kid at 22 – is able to so accurately peal back layers of what should be critical processes, actively engaging with cultural material in order to discern its real worth, and instead launch an all out aural assault on the totally unfortified amygdala – that almond-shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain that control our emotional responses to things. The result is inevitable. A couple of easy-to-remember key lines and a strong vocal hook later – darkness, silhouettes, words strictly unnecessary in the case of ‘Levels‘ – and there you have it: a world of thoughtless Avicii Automatons losing their minds to anything he releases.
The Electronic Dance Movement has come under increasing pressure of late as DJ after DJ weighs in on the ‘press play’ debate and festivals that were once the stomping ground of rock bands are given over to the jiving, fluorescent, pseudo-human masses and their usually young, often Swedish, ineluctably ‘hands-up-in-the-air’ excitable dance music masters. It is against this backdrop that Avicii potentially cops the most flak – for his youthful appearance, the fact that all of his songs sound – with some nominal margin for error – largely the same, for the umpteen stadiums, clubs and festival-grounds he fills with writhing bodies that, cynics would say, would writhe to anything as long as it was loud and repetitive enough. In many respects, I would like to agree with many of those scathing assessments but in reality, attempting to engage with those sentiments Tim Bergling has totally obliterated with his mind-boggling anthems, I recognise that much of that malice might be motivated by envy. Sure, it’s big and formulaic but winning formulas aren’t so easy to come by.
Perhaps what I most like about Avicii – before, unavoidably, I start to hate him – is that he has a way of duping you for a second. For a moment as Swedish pop singer Salem Al Fakir’s (who otherwise appears to be Stockholm’s answer to Michael Buble) vocals come in, strangely accented and oddly pitch-adjusted, you might think this is a new track from an obscure French producer. Even once the quickly cycling keyboard chords arrive, you could be forgiven for believing that Miike Snow had replaced Andrew Wyatt on vocals for one song or that Deadmau5 was taking a more upbeat take on things of late. Finally, as sea-sprayed, phaser distortion ushers in the tell-tale keys riff (only some minor variation on your last Favourite Song Ever), the inkling that this is next-level ‘Levels’ should probably have hit but hasn’t necessarily. Instead, it’s the way Avicii borrows on so many tried-and-tested house conventions and combines them all to such devastating effect that marks him as Public Enemy Number One for music’s old guard. ‘Silhouettes’ is so obvious but so enthralling at the same time. We’ve been trained into salivating at the prospect of the drop, the break-down, the low-frequency siren sounds and the vocals which are at once life-affirming and terribly wishy-washy, playing on the most vaguely universal themes ever. After 3’31″ you realise what’s going on – it’s that Swedish kid at it again. But by then it’s already too late.
Avicii – Silhouettes