In electronic dance music, popularly abbreviated as EDM, what can make you can also break you. Artists like Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta have stamped their meal tickets with floor-filling tracks and collaborations with top-flight singers and hip-hop stars. But sometimes the creative cacophony falls short, cheapened by an artistic marriage of convenience rather than strong songwriting or deft arrangements.
Here's a look at four new EDM releases and how they fare:
Kaskade, "Atmosphere" (Ultra)
Kaskade blew up with "Strobelite Seduction" in 2008 and gets better each year. He structures the songs on his latest album, "Atmosphere," so tenderly he gives them all a chance to endure. Kaskade's song calculus is simple: find the best vocalists and give them room to run. Yet amid that formula, the vocal-less "MIA to LAS" is reason alone to buy a good pair of headphones and this album. The song's finely grooved beat meets the echoing melody in a lonely airport bar, or something equally as cool. "Atmosphere" rightly cements Kaskade's position among the top half-dozen DJs worldwide.
Avicii, "True" (Island)
Sweden's Avicii delivers an expected polish on "True," with big soulful vocals laced over a thick cache of funk tracks. But I'll note that "True" feels a tad dated. Unless Chicago house is officially old enough to be back in vogue as retro, this is worn territory with the piano overkill and avalanche of soul claps. There is one absolutely perfect track in "Lay Me Down," featuring vocals from "American Idol" alum Adam Lambert. If 2013 needs a dance anthem playlist, this is track No. 1. Hands down.
Icona Pop, "This is... Icona Pop" (Atlantic/Big Beat)
The lighter side of EDM offers up Icona Pop, the Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, who had a summer anthem with "I Love It." This is much closer to hit-seeking Euro-pop than raw dance floor tracks. Their vocals don't quite have the soulful soar that tends to dominate the big bangers crowd, but this hook-heavy, own-the-night type stuff will probably go over well east of the Atlantic. The album is thematically large and the mostly well-crafted lyrics mix decently with the occasionally unnecessary production bluster, as on "We Got the World." Still, it feels a bit ramshackle.
CHVRCHES, "The Bones of What You Believe" (Glassnote)
This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it is among the most relevant new EDM synth stuff out there. CHVRCHES is a Scottish three-piece led by vocalist Lauren Mayberry. The pixieish Mayberry is so frighteningly talented she turns simply structured songs, like "Gun," into beautiful arcs of achievement. The group is spot-on cool and their delivery pays proper homage to the late 1980s synth days. But Mayberry's effort on "The Bones of What You Believe" is so good it deserves the EDM slow clap of the year. A star is absolutely born.