Review Summary: Kaskade's double album with "Fire" tracks and "Ice" tracks is a mixed bag. "Fire", though a bit inconsistent, lives up to its name for the most part. Unfortunately, "Ice" does as much as it can to put out the flames.
Kaskade's popularity is rather impressive. EDM is a scene where Dubstep seems to be getting all the love right now. There's still a lot of desire for House acts, but most of it seems to be for Electro House that's making all the same mistakes that popular American Dubstep is making. There's way too much focus on being loud and making something as dancy as possible. These aren't necessarily bad things on their own, but for a lot of producers they're coming at the cost of the music having no value off of the dance-floor. You have artists like Avicii whose track “Levels” gets all the ravers excited over not much more than one chord progression repeated for 5 minutes. Swedish House Mafia's latest single “Save The World” is just a cheesy pop song with a 4/4 beat that got absolutely huge for a reason I still haven't figured out (which could also be said about any SHM track). That's why it's impressive that Kaskade was making huge hits like “Don't Stop Dancing” in 2010. It was clearly designed to get you moving and it also showed enough restraint and control to make the track an extremely catchy and brilliant pop song on its own. He hadn't abandoned his trademark style to cash in on some of the growing sounds his fellow producers were abusing.
Unfortunately, all signs leading up this album pointed to him doing just that. Just looking at the track listing shows that Dada Life and Skrillex, two of the biggest problems when it comes to bastardizing EDM, collaborate for a track each. His first single and album opener “Eyes” didn't show much improvement. It features a vocal spot from previous collaborator Mindy Gledhill, which works for about half of the song until something goes horribly wrong. Synths swell and the percussion picks up, only for it to all drop out and be followed up with an uplifting overdriven synth over a pounding bass drum which is something we've heard way too much of by now. It's not even equalized right either. In attempting to make it as loud as possible something went wrong and there's a constant fuzziness over the top of that synth line that can't possibly be intended.
After the second track and second single “Turn It Down” fizzles out without being noteworthy at all, the album picks up quite a bit. Lessons In Love is a pulsing Electro House track that has a huge vocal hook. It's a really groovy track and the first time on the album that you'll feel like moving without feeling like Kaskade's cheating to get you there. The collaboration with Skrillex has Skrillex in his most restrained and controlled form that I've seen since “With Your Friends (Long Drive)”. He did manage to squeeze in a few of his Modern Talking oscillators (think every bassline he's ever made) in unnecessary places, but the track ends up sounding like a really groovy Feed Me track. Kaskade really gets into familiar territory from the next track “Llove” through to the end. “Llove” brings Haley back who has been featured on many of his best tracks and the collaboration doesn't disappoint. Her celestial vocals have always worked well over Kaskade's production, and although it doesn't top their past works “Step One Two” or “Dynasty”, it's a good track that touches nicely on his trademark sound.
“Waste Love” is the clear highlight here, and also the most noteworthy track. It abandons a lot of the Electro styles for an old-school Chicago Deep House vibe. Quadron, a self-described “Electronic Soul” duo are featured here with soulful vocals on top of a jazzy bassline that's just so damn cool
. The album's closed out on a high note as well. Skylar Grey performs on “Room For Happiness” over production that builds and fades at all the right moments. Her vocals are catchy and have that pristine sheen that Kaskade works best with. The way the song builds and grows is reminiscent of “Don't Stop Dancing”, but it's stylistically very different and closes the first disc out nicely with a much needed Strobelite Seduction
But here's where things turn real bad. I don't know who came up with the idea of a “Fire” and an “Ice” disc or what made them think it was good, but they must have enjoyed Cypress Hill's “(Rock) Superstar” a bit too much. Cypress Hill's Skull and Bones
album, which has one disc of rap tracks and one disc of rock tracks, isn't a bad album by any means. But it's disappointing in comparison to their classics like Black Sunday
, and a lot of that comes from the fact that the stoner-rap group is not a rock group
. That's right Kaskade, you are not a dubstep artist. As soon as I heard “Ice version of “Eyes” start out at 140 bpm I knew it was going to be trouble. The trouble doesn't come in the way I expected though. There's no random amateur drop right in the middle of the track a la Deadmau5's “Raise Your Weapon”. Instead, the entire track consists of the vocal track over a half-time drum pattern without much more to it. I suppose the only thing worse than what he did with the “Fire” version of “Eyes” is doing absolutely nothing with it.
“Ice” version of “Turn It Down” is worse. Much
worse. Than anything I've ever heard. Most of it actually fits the exact description I wrote for “Eyes”, except the drum track sounds intentionally cheesy and a little over 2 minutes in we find that random Dubstep drop that I was afraid of. It's worse than anything I've heard in the awful competition for the “dirtiest” “filthiest” Dubstep, and ends up just sounding like every producer who's ever tried and failed miserably to make the next “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”. It's embarrassingly bad for someone like Kaskade to have a track like this and I'm surprised it made it on the album.
It's not all that bad though, and fortunately Kaskade ditches the dubstep (mostly) after those tracks, hopefully for good. The remainder of the album falls under two different styles of variation. Tracks like “Lessons In Love”, which has a very cool disco feel to it, tone down a lot of the production for a slightly more minimalistic vibe that focuses more on grooves and simpler house melodies than the high-energy original tracks. However, some tracks like “Let Me Go” are stripped down too much and see Kaskade experimenting in styles out of his comfort zone that he simply isn't ready for. It ends up sounding a bit too much like a Coldplay track and it's not really bad but it's definitely not good. Splitting the album into the two discs also makes the stripped-down sound feel a bit monotonous by the end, instead of possibly being well placed for a break between high energy tracks in the first disc.
Fire & Ice
is a pretty mixed bag. There's a lot of stuff that Kaskade pulls off quite well. His trademark sound is still here on a few tracks, and those are enjoyable as ever. He spent a lot of time trying to expand his sound and it worked well on a lot of tracks but for way too many he completely missed the mark. It's great to see an artist trying to add sounds to his repertoire, but Kaskade is going need to hone his skills a lot to be taken at all seriously with a few of these styles. Fire is definitely worth a listen, and remains a fun danceable disc despite a few road bumps. Ice feels much more like a tacked on gimmick, but there are some great ones on there too, and “Lessons In Love” and “Lick It” are better than their “Fire” counter-parts.