Fresh off of a couple of weekends headlining Coachella, iconic EDM trio Swedish House Mafia have reformed for the first time in ten years to release a new collection of tracks. Although the genre’s landscape has changed quite a bit in the time they’ve been away, there’s something about their trademark melodic, synth-heavy style that feels oddly nostalgic and timeless as they return with some more modern guests along for the ride. While electronic albums – especially ones that span more than 60 minutes as this one does – often tend to feel repetitive by the time the end is reached, this one doesn’t fall into those traps as many as most as the trio continue to use their classic style in new and exciting ways. These guys have the reputation that they do for a reason – they’re masters of their craft, and the melodies that you’ll still be humming certainly override the moments of filler.
While its far from the catchiest or most memorable track here and ends up feeling a little long, the opener “Time” immediately shows off how surprisingly versatile Swedish House Mafia can be, something that they demonstrate across the full project. Twisting their typical synth tones into something a little more orchestral to accommodate the soulful and soaring vocals of Swedish singer Mapei, the way the melody line ends up working during both the contemplative opening moments and the inevitable shuffling beats and house-oriented big bass that follows is a testament to their ear for a melody built for a crowd singalong. The cheesy, nostalgic rush continues on “Heaven Takes You Home” to even greater effect – some of the best DJs are masters at finding lesser-known artists with brilliantly evocative voices and Connie Constance is no exception, her breathy tone fitting the track’s heavenly themes as she delivers an uplifting chorus over high-octane pulsating synth triplets. After a virtuosic piano transition from Swedish classic composer Jacob Muhlrad, The Weeknd makes his appearance on “Moth to a Flame.” It takes a special talent to twist the overwhelmingly positive sound of Swedish House Mafia into something dark and sinister, but that juxtaposition is part of the magic of The Weeknd’s recent 80s-centric output. If he wanted something to evoke the dancefloor euphoria and a bright backdrop intended to be an engaging clash with his predatory character, there likely weren’t many people better to work with than Swedish House Mafia.
As a transitional point between the album’s two biggest guest appearances, the track “Mafia” really works even when the big-name feature on the other end’s track doesn’t go over quite as well as the first one. A droning, industrial track that feels like they’re responding to current hip-hop trends, the trio have never made anything with such a slow tempo and it certainly brings out an exhilarating sense of dread – as a transition between The Weeknd’s depravity and a hip-hop track with A$AP Rocky, it works perfectly. A$AP brings out his best performance in years on “Frankenstein,” but it seems like Swedish House Mafia’s biggest misstep when trying something new was stepping into a full-on rap track. The track’s transitions and tempo switches feel abrupt and unearned, and it’s truly strange that a Swedish House Mafia track, of all things, would feel too low-key for the vocalist at times. The first half concludes with “Don’t Go Mad,” a truly simple track that really works and earns its 4-and-a-half-minute runtime based almost solely on a looping vocal line and an infectious, ascending synth melody ratcheted up to a chaotic tempo, and title track “Paradise Again,” a shimmering ambient track where the trio succeeds at painting a visual world of their paradise and serves as a nice calm down.
The previously released singles “Lifetime” and “It Gets Better” in the back half keep the party going with some more standard Swedish House Mafia fare, but the additions of Ty Dolla $ign and 070 Shake on the former swing the pendulum closer to the Weeknd track than something like “Don’t You Worry Child.” With fizzy 80s synths, a revelatory chorus and chopped-up yelps in the background, Ty alternating between soulful delivery and more of a rapped flow, this one’s nightclub-bound. “It Gets Better” opens with one of the hardest-knocking beats on the album, flipping a sample that’s chilling and minor-key melodically but positive and uplifting lyrically. The metallic clinks feel a little closer to a GarageBand loop than SOPHIE’s legendary work in a similar vein, but preceding it are two tracks that pull off the sample flip style even better. Rising star Fred again.. appears on “Calling On” and it shows – the sampling master likely helped with the malleability of the vocal loop they lift here, the track warping and changing around it with some great synth melodies – at one point it even sounds like phantom syllables were added as necessary. “Home,” on the other hand, is a more subdued showcase of the trio’s sample flip abilities. The funky outro is a nice touch, while the “you’re perfect, you’re cool” refrain brings a touch of the classic cheesiness despite the more downtempo, contemplative approach.
The album’s final run doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but for fans who have been waiting for the trio’s triumphant return for a decade, it’ll likely provide them with everything they need. “Redlight” is essentially SHM’s house remix of The Police’s “Roxanne,” which “Can U Feel It” is one of the more basic house tracks here without anything too distinguishable. “19.30” taps into an old-school urge that’s not around too much anymore with its driving, dubstep-adjacent synth-bass, but it’s over relatively quickly, and the project closes out with two more subdued tracks. “Another Minute” features another solid performance from 070 Shake over a toned-down backdrop, while “For You” features a final anthemic gang vocal over a chilled-out house beat.
It’s nearly impossible to pull off an EDM album – this is actually the trio’s first with the “studio album” label – just ask anyone who attended their set in the desert this past weekend for the reason why it’s not the best method of consumption for the genre. Still, after a decade of absence Swedish House Mafia have reintegrated their classic sound into the musical context of today. For any fans, this should be what they were craving and more.
Favourite Tracks: Calling On, Moth To A Flame, Don’t Go Mad, Lifetime, Home
Least Favourite Track: Can U Feel It