Zeds Dead have proven to be one of Canada’s top electronic music exports over the course of their seasoned career. The Tarantino referencing duo made a considerable impression on dance music fans in the early days of dubstep before moving on to defy expectations with their penchant for genre hopping in more recent memory. Though they’ve been around for years, Zeds Dead are finally offering up their first full length studio effort today with the release of Northern Lights.
For their debut album, Zeds Dead run the full gamut with fifteen genre blending cuts that touch on future bass, garage, dubstep, hip hop, pop and more. Littered throughout its extremely varied tracklist are a hefty share of solid collaborations, with credits including NGHTMRE, Diplo, Eliphant, Twin Shadow, Pusha T and others. It’s a dynamic collection of tunes that won’t lose steam on the dancefloor, while remaining fresh with a continuous supply of sonic surprises.
Previously heard songs like “Stardust,” the Diplo featured “Blame” and “Frontlines” with NGHTMRE prepared us for the mixed bag approach we hear on the final product, and were suitable single choices with their accessible sound and upbeat nature. Elsewhere on the album, “Lights Out” is a subtle marriage of dance and pop with reverb drenched vocals set against subdued wobbles, while “Too Young” is more upbeat with 80’s sounding sequenced basslines and persistent drum machine rhythmic backing.
“Me No Care” represents one of the album’s heaviest offering, with pummelling drum and bass beats grinding against roaring metallic basslines. “Already Done” with Ghetts is another heater that blends grime style rapping and gritty dubstep sequences, while “DNA” is another hip hop influenced bass cut. Hard edged moments like these are few and far between, but their excellent execution makes up for it.
“Loneliness” is the second Twin Shadows collaboration on the album, and he offers up some somber auto-tuned vocals over a vibrant dance backdrop. “Dimemories” serves as a reflective moment on Northern Lights, offering up spacey blues licks over ambient pad phrases and shuffled garage beats. “Where Did That Go,” meanwhile, is a future house romp with an ethereal vibe, as offbeat club beats pound away beneath atmospheric synth and deep bass stabs.
“This Is Me” pairs echoed vocals with haunting synths and crashing percussion to great effect, while “Symphony” follows with a gothic piano motif, old school hip hop drums and some smoky vocals courtesy of British singer Charlotte OC. The ensuing drops represent another future bass moment, with the kind of fluttering synth chords that have become the go to sound of the genre.”Slow Down” brings the record to a close with one last future bass excursion featuring a ghostly vocal performance from Jenna Pemkowski.
Northern Lights comes at a time where many EDM producers are eschewing the usual EPs and singles to cut their teeth at a full blown record, and it stacks up well against other notable 2016 releases like Flume’s Skin and Elephante’s I Am The Elephante. Some risky future pop efforts lend a bold attitude to the album, and they’re rounded out by an endless supply of solid dance workouts and crowd pleasers.
The strength of Northern Lights lies in its ambition as a record, straddling a multitude of genres across its lengthy tracklist. Future bass rears its head on tracks like “Frontlines” and “Neck and Neck,” while harder edged moments like “Me No Care,” “DNA” and “Already Done” satisfy the need for some bass heavy material. Zeds Dead craft a playlist on their debut that keeps you on your toes as they careen carelessly from genre to genre, and it’s a strategy that pays off due to their ability to produce consistently good songs in whatever style they choose at the moment.
Part of the charm of Northern Lights comes in the form of its pop experiments, with tracks like “Lights Out” and “Too Young” serving as stand out moments. Zeds Dead harness their production prowess to accent their vocal collaborations while taking some interesting twists and turns along the way. The best parts of the record are hard to define and thus inherently fresh sounding, a characteristic that remains a constant throughout the full work. Album opener “Stardust” exemplifies this with its eclectic array of sound sources, arriving at an intrinsically organic sound with an electronic personality. Pair that with irresistible beats and memorable vocal melodies and you have a formula for success.
For dance music fans, there’s no shortage of energetic beats and tightly engineered productions. There’s still plenty for bass hungry listeners to enjoy as well, with Zeds Dead exploring dubstep and drum and bass on a few notable occasions, but they wisely balance out the album with a fuller exploration of the EDM spectrum while maintaining a pop friendly edge throughout. This seems to be the standard for dance music albums right now, and Northern Lights won’t disappoint in that regard.
There’s never a dull moment on Northern Lights, and Zeds Dead offer up a little bit of everything on their first full length record. The album represents a sense of maturity for the group with their carefully chosen vocal collaborators and daring pop exercises, while they’re careful not to disappoint club oriented listeners with the inclusion of several notable low end workouts. It’s a true mark of success when a dance record can be enjoyed at home, and Northern Lights has more than enough going for it to keep your attention off the dancefloor.
With a tendency to defy expectations through a series of genre hopping dance pop efforts, Zeds Dead deliver a memorable studio album Northern Lights. With collaborations ranging from Diplo to NGHTMRE across its fifteen tracks, the new record dishes up a healthy dose of dancefloor firepower with plenty of catchy melodies just waiting to get stuck in your head.