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Zedd’s ‘Clarity’: a risky but successful release that moves dance music forward (album review)

One of the most highly anticipated albums of the recent dance music explosion, Clarity is Anton Zaslavski’s magnum opus — a beautifully composed concept album that marks a defining moment in the young producer’s career. Spending time in the studio with the legendary Jimmy Iovine has certainly paid off for Zedd. His sound has matured, developing far beyond the type of music that is suitable for a DJ set. There is much more to Clarity than a simple selection of tracks; there is an undeniable feeling of intent, an intangible sense that Anton has poured himself into every production on the album.

With each successive listen it becomes more apparent; every single note has a purpose, every snare hit and synth squeal was methodically placed and painstakingly produced. Zedd’s attention to detail is stunningly thorough, every single beat has been toiled over, worked and re-worked, ad infinitum, until what is left is nothing short of perfection.  At first it was hard to define, but then I realized that Clarity has one thing that so many of today’s dance music productions do not — it has a soul.

Many producers have released EPs in the past that were nothing more than neatly packaged vehicles to redistribute old singles, but Zedd — by creating an album rather than playing the game — has successfully done what few before him have accomplished. He has crossed over, transcending what it means to be pigeonholed as a “DJ” by developing into a full-fledged electronic artist. He has asserted himself as more than just another producer in a sea of sonic drivel, and by doing so, has created the first classic album for the latest wave of dance music fans.

1. Zedd – Hourglass (feat. LIZ)

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Setting the tone for the rest of the album, “Hourglass” opens delicately as LIZ’s sinewy vocals float amidst dreamy piano rolls and the repetitive ticking of a clock. From the moment that the snares kick in it becomes readily apparent that Clarity is not your average electronic music EP. It’s a decidedly slow opener for the album, but transitions flawlessly into…

2. Zedd – Shave It Up

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His first release on OSWLA and the track that put him on the map, “Shave It” gets a subtle refresh on Clarity. Re-mastered and shortened, “Shave It Up” has the same powerful bassline of the original with the addition of a welcomed orchestral string section.

3. Zedd – Spectrum (feat. Matthew Koma)

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The wildly successful single that spawned countless remixes, “Spectrum” was Zedd’s warning shot — it was a sign of things to come. Driven by Matthew Koma’s incredible vocals, this stand out track marked the beginning of Zedd’s redefinition. Despite heavy rotation since its initial release as a single, “Spectrum” feels brand new here, a key piece in the Clarity puzzle.

4. Zedd – Lost At Sea (feat. Ryan Tedder)

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Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic lends his vocals to “Lost At Sea.” It’s a radio-friendly pop production with progressive chord play paired with Zedd’s trademark electro undertones, but it’s also the weakest and least Zedd-like track on the album. “Lost At Sea” still has the legs to stand on its own, but it’s definitely not on the same level as “Calling,” another dance-produced track that Tedder is the vocalist on.

5. Zedd – Clarity (feat. Foxes)

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The title track on Zedd’s first studio album is also the best on the release. Foxes’ emotive vocals steal the show from the go-to electro-siren, Ellie Goulding, who is featured later on “Fall Into The Sky.” Monolithic chord play and a brilliant choral section flourish together to create a jaw-dropping sense of epic-ness. Evocative and beautiful, “Clarity” is poised to be Zedd’s next run-away hit — it is “Spectrum’s” female driven counterpart.

6. Zedd – Codec

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The most Zedd-like track on Clarity, “Codec” is the perfect example of Anton’s development as an artist. Robust and refreshing, the production here is impeccable — string sections accompany complextro flairs, and Zedd’s iconic, gritty bass lines are present throughout.

7. Zedd – Stache

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A Zedd track on sonic steroids, “Stache” is an electro-meets-progressive masterpiece. Sawtooth driven arpeggios build into an acid-tinged breakdown with robotic synthwork eerily reminiscent of Daft Punk. The extended mix of “Stache” has some additional perfectly-placed elements that will make you smile and turn up the volume, but even without them, the album cut is likely to do the same.

8. Zedd & Lucky Date – Fall Into The Sky (feat. Ellie Goulding)

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Zedd teams up with Lucky Date to create a driving electro house track. The most energetic track on the album, Lucky Date’s punchy electro style squeals and builds amidst Ellie Goulding’s iconic voice and Zedd’s melodic touches. The drop here is earth-shaking without being overly cheesy or overdone — it’s a refreshingly different kind of track, and not like anything we’ve heard before.

9. Zedd – Follow You Down (feat. Bright Lights)

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Another gorgeous, vocal-driven production, “Follow You Down” featuring Bright Lights is progressive house through and through. A shocking departure from his complextro roots, Zedd effortlessly proves his versatility as an artist, creating a progressive house track that is far more impressive than what most progressive artists can put together. A classically-trained musician first, electronic artist second, Zedd proves that there is more to his sound than stuttering synthesizers. The vocal is perfectly singable and catchy — and if there isn’t already a remix package in the works, there should be.

10. Zedd – Epos  

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Ep · os (n.)

1. A number of poems, not formally united, that treat an epic theme.

2. An epic

Closing out the album with “Epos” couldn’t be more appropriate; delicately wrapping up his career-defining and genre-transcending album with progressive and electro, Anton brings all of his sounds together in a neat little package. Stuttering complextro chops, floor-rattling chord slams and artfully done string sections create a satisfying close to an epic experience.

Conclusion

Taking queues from Justice’s Cross, Zedd has created a narrative rather than a haphazard collection of forgettable singles. Each track on Clarity acts as a piece to a much larger puzzle, telling a unique and sonically diverse story that showcases the vast breadth of his musical talents. A risk seldom taken by producers in the ADD-fueled age of electronic music, the “concept” album has been vastly overlooked, replaced instead by the easily marketable pop dance single and radio-friendly remix. It is said that the true sign of a legitimate artist is their willingness to takes risks, and on Clarity, Zedd proves that some risks are worth taking.

Overall: 4.75/5

Purchase: iTunes (Beatport October 9th)

PS: We want to know what you think of the album, so vote for your favorite tracks in the Listly below.

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