As usual, Kaskade draws strength from mainstage EDM culture. Unfortunately for him, right now that culture is the weakest it's ever been.
Give Ryan Raddon this: he does a hell of a job keeping himself entrenched in the upper echelons of a notoriously fickle and finicky EDM industry. There are a lot of factors at play here, not least of which are a crack marketing team, a label which was fully behind him from his signing in 2006 to his split in 2014, and the fans who continue to buy album after album for personal consumption and drink after drink at his Vegas pool parties. At least partially responsible for his continued success, though, is his propensity for keeping perfectly neck-and-neck with the sounds du jour in his realm of progressive house. When the wave of new-school prog-house producers flooded in six or seven years ago, Raddon — who produces and performs as Kaskade — rode right at the crest, soaring alongside names like Deadmau5 and Fedde Le Grand. When the big-room pop-house chorus took root, Kaskade kept right up: Atmosphere was so good largely because it melded the best of the festival euphoria at which Kaskade excelled with the best of his signature style of trouse.
It’s precisely because of his close cleaving to contemporary standards that Automatic is as disappointing as it is. While electronic music on the whole remains as lively and forward-thinking as ever, the much narrower mainstream EDM market is hitting one of its driest spells in recorded memory. This is reflected by — or caused by, take your pick — the withering of kingpin corporation SFX Entertainment’s multibillion-dollar stockpile of capital, and we see the decline on a more practical level in the evaporation of prog-house as radio’s king and the crackdown on clubbing following dozens of festival deaths worldwide over the past few years. As such, what little life that remains in the market is ebbing away in the form of bouncy, uber-derivative “future house” and its Disclosure-spurred poppy faux-deep house cousin. For the first time since 2013, everything well and truly sounds the same.
And, unfortunately, Kaskade isn’t doing much to overturn that milquetoast status quo. As might be expected, Automatic meshes celestial progressive house with the kind of soggy piano and twanging synth leads that are so prevalent today, and the result is occasionally excellent but too often middling. There’s “Never Sleep Alone,” of course, which succeeds because it maintains the elation of years past alongside a punchy breakdown, but it’s a diamond in the rough. It’s bookended by the bland, dated “Disarm You” and the muted, trodden-over “Day Trippin’”, each of which serves to highlight how good the middle track is by virtue of their own mediocrity.
When Kaskade ventures out into the enclosures of other artists, much the same happens. “Tear Down These Walls” is a boring piece of midrange-heavy house which brings to mind the worst of Jax Jones and the worst of Tchami, while “Phoenix” is a disappointing attempt at replicating the piano-heavy gooey goodness of Gorgon City. More than this, though, these tracks are stone-footed attempts to breach the admittedly thick walls of the prog-house sweet spot, sad proof that Raddon might have been better off steering away from his haphazard fusion of genre tropes. It’s the story of the whole album, really: it’s a Kaskade sound, sure, but it’s a Kaskade sound in a time where the wells around have dried up and there’s nothing more to draw from. It hurts to suggest that a more navel-gazing approach might have been appropriate, staying within the well-marked bounds of progressive house to create a sharper and crisper album, but given the result we’ve got here, it may have been the smarter choice.