[18 October 2013]
The word atmosphere evokes a snapshot of beautiful multicolored clouds of gases suspended by gravity. Envision an accompanying soundtrack to complement that vivid portrait, and the ideal musical representation includes gentle, more delicate sounds. The timbre is describable as celestial, mellow, and bright. Kaskade’s 2013 album, Atmosphere, matches those aforementioned depictions. Kaskade opts for softer synths and an overall balanced production without clutter or excessive layers. That doesn’t mean there’s no bass drops, but ultimately it is an enjoyable album that seems to be of a different breed compared to many electronic efforts. Sometimes its subtleties could use extra push or more direction, but overall it’s pleasant.
“Last Chance”, featuring Project 46, starts off Atmosphere, solidly characterized by its hypnotic minimalism and cool, angelic vocals. “Last Chance” is incredibly controlled and possesses sound pacing, gradually incorporating more electronic cues as the track evolves. Not a commanding, innovative showing per say, it is worthwhile. “Why Ask Why” proceeds, featuring Late Night Alumni. While the percussive grooves helps to propel the cut forward, this cut feels a bit too nebulous, needing extra direction to give it oomph. The female vocals ultimately are lovely, but like the song itself, come off a bit too fluffy. One of three instrumental cuts, “MIA to LAS” infuses more energy and provides some distinction into the set.
“No One Knows Who We Are” builds upon the momentum of “MIA to LAS”, featuring Lights and Swanky Tunes. For the first time, the vocals possess a greater assertiveness, which provides the punch that was lacking on the opening duo of songs. Add the use of strings to the soundscape, and “No One Knows” ends up being transcendent of mere electronic music clichés. “Feeling the Night” takes a step back, but is no deal breaker in the least. The sound is bright, though things opt for cool as opposed to hot. Guest vocalist Beck Jean Williams coos more than she bites. While the lyrics are simple, they suit both genre and song exceptionally.
“Take Your Mind Off” does mellow compellingly, resembling somewhere between heaven and a drug-induced high. Regardless of the interpretation, the driving groove coupled with the lush pad creates quite the desirable sound. Throw in some jazzy vibraphone and the mind easily drifts. “Take Your Mind Off” sets up quite a savvy run for Atmosphere, which begins with a second instrumental cut, “LAX to JFK”. With quite the knack for tasteful arrangements, Kaskade makes a splash without unnecessary overcrowding.
“Atmosphere” and “Missing You” continue to propel the album forward. On “Atmosphere”, Kaskade lends his own pipes, which are cool with just a sprinkle of soulfulness. Pacing continues to shine, with electronic cues gradually evolving into full fruition. “Atmosphere” also touts the rare memorable lyric: “When I was young I could hear the sound / a melody pure and a rhythm loud / oh the sound took me away / carried through the vastness of outer space.” Similarly more substantive, “Missing You” excels with rhythmic synth lines and an elevated level of poetry: “I’ve seen your eyes in a million faces / what else could I ever see but you?” Groovy and thoughtful, the greatness of “Missing You” atones for the pain which its title alludes to.
“Something Something”, featuring electro duo Zip Zip Through The Night, offers a bit more edge given prominence of guitar. It still barely breaks a sweat, but there is a definite, distinct timbral contrast. “SFO to ORD” is the final instrumental cut, but pales compared to its sibling cuts. Penultimate number “Floating” is the perfect tone poem, as the music and vibe both support the song’s title. Guest vocalist Haley definitely plays up the buoyancy, but there is also a sense of overindulgence and sameness compared to previous cuts. “How It Is”, featuring Debra Fotheringham, closes much stronger. Maybe just shy of being a top-tier cut, its pretty solid.
All in all, Atmosphere is quite an enjoyable and well conceived album. It is undeniable that the soundscapes are nothing short of gorgeous. That said, the biggest rub is that sometimes Kaskade’s penchant for softer, atmospheric sounds is, well, too soft. Sure, the reliance on the female voice yields both respectable and often superb results, but a shake-up could eliminate some monotony, which rears its ugly head at times. While Kaskade’s tidy productions are a definite pro, few would object if the producer dug in every once and a while with an extra drop or two.