To be completely honest, writing with authority on Kaskade‘s ninth studio album, Automatic, has been something of a challenge. Contrary to what you might expect from my opinions on some of the tracks he’s already released from the effort, I haven’t just been gearing up to trash talk the entire album. …Well, yes, I actually was, but only if it was deserving. What Kaskade has put out, however, is a collection of songs that – regardless of what each of them conveys individually – tells a story of the world-class DJ/producer making a bold stylistic transition over the course of one of the EDM movement’s stranger hours.
Naturally, though, he wasn’t transparent enough to lay it out in chronological order. You have to know what you’re listening for and put the puzzle together yourself.
It’s likely that the first track he started working on from Automatic was actually one of the last on the tracklist. His John Dahlback collaboration, “A Little More,” featuring Sansa sounds just like the Kaskade we know and love: A strong, sensual female vocal set against the backdrop of great big hoover synth stacks effectively blurs the lines between house, trance and pop.
The beauty of these kinds of productions is that as difficult as they are to categorize, they sound like Kaskade. He’s been opening live sets with this track for well over a year, and it’s never failed to set the right tone.
But somewhere along the lines, he decided that he wanted to do something different. Perhaps he felt a longing to tap back into his house roots, or perhaps he was under pressure from his label to stay current – either way, he began to incorporate future house bass lines into his productions that detracted from the overall feel of each track.
The first indicator of this trend took the form of “Never Sleep Alone,” the Tess Comrie collaboration that he premiered at Holy Ship! earlier in the Spring – but the as-yet-unreleased “Breaking Up” featuring Scott Shepard sounds like it must have been produced during this experimental period as well. Both exhibit all the hallmarks of a classic Kaskade track, but the organ synths at each drop sound markedly more forced than anything else in the arrangement. As harsh as it is to say, it sounded like he simply didn’t know what he was doing.
What I didn’t expect (but perhaps should have) while writing scathing reviews of these tracks during those early months of the festival season, however, was that Kaskade would find a way to polish these elements over time and make them his own. During his set at EDC Las Vegas in June, he dropped “Disarm You” featuring Ilsey. In this track, the bass line was subtle and almost indiscernible from the rest of the arrangement, only providing an understated counterbalance to the other elements of the track.
Now that the release of Automatic is upon us, the maturity of his exploration can be heard in tracks like “Tear Down These Walls” featuring Tamra Keenan (who previously sang on Kaskade’s “Angel On My Shoulder”) or “Us” featuring CID – the latter of which, despite being only the second track on the album, exhibits the most advanced evolution of these elements. A subtle pitch shift on one layer of the vocals hints at the track’s future house leaning, but the breakdown that follows radiates a playful warmth that stands out as a unique yet functional adaptation of the style. At long last and despite my doubts, Kaskade has figured out how to make future house his own.
In a recent interview with Larry King, Kaskade expressed that Automatic has been “sonically a step forward” for him – and while a few months ago I wouldn’t have agreed, after listening to the effort piece by piece I can agree that Kaskade has completed a tightrope walk that not every artist can: He updated his sound in a way that doesn’t betray his history as an artist.
Granted, it didn’t stick overnight – and some of the album’s weaker tracks stand as evidence of the difficulties the task presented him – but I can sincerely say that I’m eager to see more of Kaskade‘s new style in the months to follow. As the deluge of commercial EDM drives more and more of its fans away from the main stage, it looks like he’ll still have an audience when it’s all said and done.
Kaskade's ninth studio album chronicles the evolution of a world-class artist who's proven himself timeless whether on the main stage or otherwise. Like anything experimental, it hasn't always been the smoothest process, but the effort makes up for its misses with songs that reinforce his already celebrated body of work.