Living legend and revered producer Steve Angello makes his first solo artist album journey, following the close of his nearly decade-long partnership with Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso as Swedish House Mafia. Wild Youth has been more than a year coming, with Angello moving the album from Columbia Records to his own Size imprint in 2014. Now finally released, we hear what Angello hears as the “wild” sound that will drive dance music’s next generation.
For those familiar with the top-tier tune maker’s story, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this album blends modern pop, funky French disco, and a heaping serving of Swedish House Mafia’s heaving, banging kicks. Overall, Wild Youth is an off-kilter listen at first, its component parts not quite gelling. However, when you realize this is Angello’s attempt at a cinematic tour-de-force defining his artistic future, you empathize with his bravery and find the logic in his execution. Worthy of multiple listens, this is an audacious release that aims for something more, and eventually finds all of it.
“Rebel Nation” ft. Andrew Watt
The lead synth and tom-tom give the track a tribal and near-cinematic feel. The electro, auto-tuned vocal promising “a new generation” cuts across the organic drums in a bizarre yet good way. The track then sets into a groove that’s distinctly Daft Punk-meets-Nero; its disco breaks meet with a dubstep-style sub-bass effect. The production overall is intentionally disarming, in a sense of informing the listener that Angello’s departed from his Swedish House Mafia days and has headed back to his roots, while moving forward in a striking direction.
“Children of the Wild” ft. Mako
Mako’s lead vocal on “Children of the Wild” dissonantly crackles against the lone synth soaring into the track’s upper register. The guitar and drums in this one are less of Avicii’s jug-band electro and are instead aimed at arena rock in both size and feel. The trademark SHM kicks make their first appearance on the album, giving this track a heavy swing that, when added to the pounding bass drum and heavy chords of the lead guitar, provide a not-so-underground, stadium-ready dance vibe.
The cinematic scope of Angello’s imagination strikes again with “Tiger,” a track that literally starts in the jungle. The pulsating synths have a sense of wonder in their vibe; it’s when the metronomic Dembow morphs into a classic-style, boom-bap break that the track truly feels like a “wild journey.” The Daft Punk-style keyboard synths filling out the close of the track make this one feel as if Angello is pushing his fans to discover a “new” sound.
“Last Dance” ft. Franz Novotny
A plaintive feel is carried via a mainstream pop-aimed lead vocal and bright lead synth on “Last Dance.” Once the disco-ready bass guitar kicks in, the track feels almost like an homage to Donna Summer’s 1978 disco classic of the same name. Add the whistle section in the track’s third vocal loop, and this one attempts to embody everything good about the past decade of dance-ready, underground-to-mainstream pop in one single.
“Wasted Love” ft. Dougy Mandagi
At one time the lead single for Wild Youth, “Wasted Love” bears a striking similarity to the last time Temper Trap vocalist Dougy Mandagi paired with a Swedish House Mafia member via Axwell and Dirty South’s 2010 remix for the band’s single “Sweet Disposition.” Angello’s collaboration is more Top-40-ready house than festival-prepped electro, though, with Mandagi’s vocal soaring alongside an electric guitar, while seemingly horse-powered kicks occupy the bass bin and create a powerful combination. It’s a true anthem of a track and possibly the album’s best overall production, as it meets the classic standard of what SHM fans would most like to hear from Angello.
“Stockholm Skies” ft. Tom Taped & Alex Aris
The bass guitar licks that underpin “Stockholm Skies” are so well mixed into the track that their guiding force behind the production could almost go unnoticed. The song overall feels like a needling yet still tremendous electro workout. It never really gets too far past a rolling boil, quite the feat given the track’s mellifluous male tenor. Even the thumping kicks are somewhat muted, which surprises but adds to the song’s unrepentant forward energy. When the high end of the mix finally explodes in the finale, it’s quite the euphoric payoff.
“Revolution” ft. David Garza
The reverb effect on this track’s vocals creates an initial disconnect, but once the shuffling bassline gets established and the cooing lead vocal becomes a loop throughout, this becomes one of those big-room-goes-deep-house tracks that could extend for 10 minutes, and nobody on the dancefloor would care. Steel drums and snappy snares make this one so much fun as a listen and do much for Angello’s oft-stated desire to go “indie” and “underground” on Wild Youth. It’s likely the one production that demands as many remixes in as many variations as possible.
“Prisoner” ft. Gary Go
Direct to the point of its title, the track’s measured drum blasts do give off the sense of foreboding prison doors slamming shut. Church bells and techno bleeps likely make no sense if considering this album in a direct musical review. But if you envision Wild Youth as Angello’s take on his being some sort of musical freedom fighter in a dystopian, totalitarian state in a digital video game, this absolutely works. There’s definitely a lot happening with this track, but if you assume the creator’s imagination, it’s logical and sensible and is the album’s most introspective song.
“The Ocean” ft. Julia Spada
A lonesome violin soundtracks the breaking of waves for what could be expected to then devolve into a dirge of a track about sailing with a forlorn face into a forlorn musical future. To the listener’s surprise, there’s instead an upbeat female vocal promising a curious excitement about things. The vocal pitch is shifted to a rather high register, which makes it difficult to discern. However, the undulating disco bottom end definitely connotes that funk, disco—and yes, maybe even classic house—are part of the musical unknown that Angello has set course to rediscover.
“Someone Else” ft. Dan Reynolds
A dry and bass-laden metronomic bassline informs “Someone Else” with an ‘80s movie soundtrack show-stealer sensibility. Ultimately, “Someone Else” is miscast as an album cut on a big-room house heavyweight’s 2015 album. Other than feeling anachronistic, this one is great.
“Remember” ft. The Presets
The combination of a dominating male tenor and hollow, noodling percussion on “Remember” equals far more than the sum of its seemingly incongruous parts. It’s the power strikes of the piano chords and crunching breaks here that really define the overall production, as the track simmers to a boil, then explodes with electro house energy. Clocking in at just over five minutes, the track is given the time to have a story begin, develop, and reach a comfortable finale.
“Stay” ft. Saints of Valory
Chopping violin strings give off all of the Coldplay “Viva La Vida” vibes, and given that Swedish House Mafia remixed the UK band’s 2011 single “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” maybe that similarity is entirely purposeful. A woman warrior who “has everything a man could need” is the song’s heroine, and the shuffling, beat-driven paean to her is indeed very similar to the aforementioned remix. This album often treads into territories quite familiar to Angello’s prior success, and this song falls on the more positive side of that mixed bag of results.
Wild Youth from Steve Angello is available now on Size Records.
Marcus K. Dowling was once a wild, wild youth. Follow him on Twitter.