Tuesday, May 12, 2015

True Colors | Zedd


★★★☆☆

Abandoned prisons and haunted hotels don't seem like appropriate settings to listen to an album that is stamped with the vibrant title of True Colors and filled with shiny electronic dance synths, but those locations are exactly where some Zedd fans got a first listen to his new body of work. Courtesy of the Russia-German artist, fans from ten major U.S. cities were sent on large-scale scavenger hunts, in search of his large 'Z' symbols in their respective areas. The first fifty to complete each hunt were transported to outlandish locations, such as Alcatraz Island, a secluded desert, and the Stanley Hotel, to attend exclusive listening parties for each of the album's tracks.

After months of these secret gatherings, Zedd is prepared to drop the full album. It's time for him to reveal his True Colors and prove that his newest attempt lives up to the hype that he has generated.

Many artists use their sophomore albums as opportunities to redefine and streamline their sounds; Zedd is no different. "I Want You To Know," his radio-ready lead single with short-lived love interest Selena Gomez, led listeners to believe that True Colors would deliver more of the same: heavy beats, thick seas of synths, and short, yet powerful breakdowns. On tracks like rumored second single "Beautiful Now" and the impressive "Bumble Bee," his strategy isn't altered much. Other tracks, however, integrate small glimmers of acoustic instruments, stretch much longer than other tracks, and veer off of typical formulas.

The somber title track is the most prominent departure from the sound of Clarity, as bells, pianos, chimes, tambourines, and natural-sounding drums are placed over a newfound minimalist synth style. Zedd, who prides himself on being a classically trained musician, revealed to the Huffington Post that most of the songs on this album began as piano-based demos. Hints of the piano skeletons can be heard most prominently in the final copies of "Papercut," a sprawling seven-minute piece featuring the vocals of Australian YouTube sensation Troye Sivan, and "Illusion," a track done with Echosmith. The latter track begins with a piano verse before transforming into atmospheric synths - a technique that Zedd says gives room for "the elements [of the song] to breathe."

This is still an electronic dance album, though, and Zedd can still deliver a few impressive synths and beats. The album opens with "Addicted to a Memory," one of his strongest tracks to date; airy production swirls around Bahari's vocals and then slides into a pit of dark, scratching synths. In the final minute, Zedd orchestrates a mad collection of synths unlike anything he has done before. Alt-rockers X Ambassadors and rapper Logic are invited for "Transmission," another track with some stellar production. The wild synths are complemented well by the gritty voice of Ambassadors front-man Sam Harris as he repeats, "Don't forget what they told you: 'You're never too young to die.'" 

True Colors may not be as thunderous as his debut album, but it is definitely a game-changer for Zedd. The frequent climatic moments of Clarity have been pushed away in favor of tranquility. His heaviest hitters ("Addicted to a Memory," "Straight into the Fire," "Bumble Bee") are sprinkled throughout the track-listing, surrounded by radiant, slow-burning tracks ("Papercut," "Illusion," "True Colors"). Although the album is far from perfect, Zedd has pushed the boundaries of what mainstream electronic dance music can encompass.

True Colors will be released on May 18, 2015 under Interscope Records.

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