Dance maven Kaskade has never been one to shy away from quality songwriting or massive hooks. In fact, nine albums into his career, his material has become more aligned with the kind of pop-styled sound that has allowed his star—and those of others in the EDM world—to rise. On Automatic, his first album for Warner Bros., he embraces a more traditional Top 40 vibe; yet he’s managed to assemble some of the funkiest and most well-rounded material in his legendary 25-plus-year career.
What stands out about this album is how aware Ryan Raddon seems to be about the current state of dance music. His history of playing small clubs, large stadiums, and some of the most significant festivals in the world has tuned his ear to both pop trends and underground sounds. Arguably the strongest tunes on the 14-track release are the more dancefloor-ready cuts. With their heaving four-on-the-floor basslines, “Tear Down These Walls” and “Phoenix” pack in classic house vibes, while UK-born soul-stirrer Estelle flexes on “Day Trippin’,” a track that could be the album’s best blend of dancefloor accessibility and blow-away topline vocal work. Estelle’s soulful timbre seductively wraps itself around the piano stabs in a way that’s reminiscent of her 2008 breakout single ”American Boy.”
Raddon works with a series of collaborators here, good-time boys Galantis among them. The pairing of the two brings us “Mercy,” a booming electro house track that more showcases Galantis’ desire to mold their fanciful and hooky sound to something closer to the Kaskade tradition than toward anything resembling hits like “Peanut Butter Jelly.” Despite all the top-notch collaborations, though, it’s when Kaskade goes solo that he proves himself as an icon motivated for even greater heights.
Comparing Kaskade to legendary American house icon Todd Terry feels odd, but take one listen to Automatic’s “Breaking Up” and “Promise,” and it makes sense. Terry’s 1994 remix of Everything but the Girl’s “Missing” features a knocking bassline, an ambient yet ear-worming melody, and a vocal performance that simmers to a boil. K.Flay’s vocal feature on “Promise” is a half-rapped, whispered tone that is a departure from the norm for Raddon, but it still rings true. Also, like “Missing,” enough can’t be said about how funky the bassline is of “Breaking Up”—and how robust and a smooth, rolling boil Scott Shepard’s topline needs to be in order to not be swallowed by the low-end or sound entirely out of place on the track.
There were those who felt as though Raddon’s move to Warner Bros. would birth an album of milquetoast arena-pop anthems with a festival electro vibe. However, in being able to remember and access what dance once meant—rich, vibrant, thumping house anthems featuring sumptuous vocal performances—Raddon has defied expectations and created a diverse, left-leaning winner. If the album title has any meaning whatsoever, it’s that this full-length is expected to “automatically” make the most ardent of non-dancers want to move their feet.
Automatic from Kaskade is available now.
Marcus K. Dowling knows Kaskade on a first-name basis. Or so he says. Follow him on Twitter.