Since his most recent double-album “Fire & Ice,” Kaskade has become shorthand for the arrival of stadium-sized EDM shows in America. After a decade honing his pointedly emotional, populist sound, he was the first dance act to headline Staples Center, and topped bills at most of the major EDM fests in America.
That’s been great for his career -- but what does becoming a genre figurehead mean for your actual music? On “Atmosphere,” it means getting more musical -- some of these tracks barely flirt with dance beats at all. Instead, there are winding little orchestras and even more prominent places for his raft of female guest vocalists.
It’s hard to imagine many other EDM acts credibly deconstructing their sound like Kaskade does on “No One Knows Who We Are,” a drum-less indie-pop piano ballad with guests Swanky Tunes and the singer Lights. Taken alongside Avicii’s recent bluegrass-infused hit, it’s both promising and a little nerve-wracking to see dance artists shedding the sonic principles that make them distinct.
But he tightens the genre reins on a trio of suites, “MIA to LAS,” “LAX to JFK” and “SFO to ORD,” that have some of John Tejada’s chord-bending bounce. His teamup with School of Seven Bells, “Missing You,” finds a nice deep-house stride; the producer even tackles lead vocals for the first time on the album’s fizzy, trance-y title track.
About half the record is orthodox Kaskade -- clean-cut rave with a dreamy shimmer -- that fans will devour, but which doesn’t move the genre much. But the other half is a laudable effort to broaden the palette for what big-tent EDM can do -- namely, go slower and feel more human. We’ll see how it plays in arenas to come.
Two and a Half stars