November 8, 2016 The Chainsmokers – Collage (Album Review)
There is a downright abundance of EDM self-proclaimed “frat-bro” collectives producing beats that overlap pulsating synths decent enough to fist-bump to. However, no EDM collective has embraced this new niche and captured the essence of millennials quite as successfully as The Chainsmokers have.
The American Electro-House duo shamelessly broke out into the mainstream Pop scene early in 2014 with the overnight viral hit “#Selfie,” a satirical Pop anthem which seemed to have all listeners simultaneously rolling their eyes and bopping their heads along to the infectious leads. Upon reaching internet fame, founding members Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall systematically began releasing single after single, teasing what would become their 2015 debut EP, Bouquet, which was met with mild success and extensive touring. However, in the spring of 2016, the duo was yet again subject to viral fame as their single “Closer” began playing nearly ad nauseam on the radio, and consequently became Spotify’s #1 most streamed track for weeks. On their newest effort, 2016’s Collage, The Chainsmokers curate a collection of chart-topping singles meant to push the soundscapes of Pop through a multitude of layers and textures.
Sonically, 2016’s Collage marks a step into the Pop realm for the EDM duo, a dramatic shift from their last EP, Bouquet, which was heavily influenced by modulation, saturated arpeggiations, and an extensive use of vocoders. However, less muddied chart-toppers such as “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down” (singles that both went Platinum multiple times this year) can be found on the extended play, truly exemplifying the strides that the duo have made thus far in the field of mainstream Pop. Indeed, Collage showcases The Chainsmokers’ unique potential, illustrating how the EDM-turned-Pop outfit can truly take the music industry by storm by effectively marrying evocative bass drops and Pop leads to the scene.
The instrumentation on this extended play is actually quite varied, as one gets to hear the duo experiment with some more mellow tones. On the first track of the EP, “Setting Fires,” featuring XYLØ, Eastern-influenced instrumentation is present, subtly lurking under layers of Vocalist Paige Duddy’s ethereal, yet compelling performance. Duddy’s vocals are clean and expressive, yet hypnotic as the entrancing bass drop bubbles up, complementing the stripped-down, yet evocative lyrics.
Another sonic highlight of the album is the irresistibly contagious single “Closer,” featuring Alternative Pop trailblazer Halsey. This song, no matter how extensive its airplay has been, is the incontrovertible highlight of this album, perfectly capturing millennial youthfulness and free spirit within a truly dynamic beat and clever lyricism. At 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 to date, it is absolutely no wonder why “Closer” is the epitome of fun, infectious, and free-spirited Pop. Unlike many songs with a main focus on synthetic leads, this track does not weaken its punchy synths: instead, they only build up intensity.
Yet, the true standout aspect of the smash-hit single is featured Vocalist Halsey, as she provides a truly brilliant vocal performance that incorporates rich vocal texture and a unique color to complement Andrew Taggart’s vocals. Indeed, the chemistry between the two exceeds far beyond the stage, as their voices blend irresistibly smoothly.
While the album’s standout tracks may scream “fun,” the EP’s deeper cuts may invoke a less exciting element. The second track off of Collage, “All We Know,” featuring Phoebe Ryan, contains a purely unsatisfying drop that, overall, lacks power and drive. Following Ryan since 2015’s single “Mine,” it is genuinely exciting to see her featured on tracks that gain her more mainstream popularity. Her uniquely tender voice is so light, it sounds like a sonic Pop dream. However, that does not take away from the fatal flaw in this track, which is, albeit a catchy melody, the song lacks the driving force needed to push it forward.
An additional fatal flaw within the Collage EP is that of “Inside Out.” Despite its strong lyrical qualities within the verses, “Bend your chest open so I can read your heart/I need to get inside, or I’ll start a war/I wanna build you up/and pick you apart,” the diction of the chorus muddies the track with simple and grating repetition. This is by far the easiest song in the collection to gloss-over, as Charlee’s vocals, while unique, fail to captivate a fragment of emotion.
Nonetheless, the album’s closer ties in all the sonic soundscapes of fun: with an inevitably catchy bass drop, incorporating pulsating synths varying octaves, “Don’t Let Me Down,” featuring 18-year-old Singer/Songwriter Daya, is as captivating and ethereal as the 20-something experience. She is yet another brilliant featured vocalist, demonstrating an extensive vocal range over an atmospheric guitar riff.
Fun and exciting, The Chainsmokers’ Collage EP is truly a generational mating call that screams what it is like to be young, wild, and carefree. By marrying EDM dynamics and Pop-oriented leads, the Electro-House outfit has demonstrated its potential to climb the charts and dominate the Pop industry as we know it. CrypticRock gives The Chainsmokers’ Collage 4 out of 5 stars.