At this point, it’s pretty hard to deny that the EDM bubble has burst. Dance music will forever be popular, but the music of glowstick festivals and “epic drops” has very much faded from popularity. The most logical evolution of that sound is to be found in the newly popular space of “tropical house”, such as Skrillex’s work on Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Some have called the genre the “soft-rock of EDM”, and that description is very apt for Kygo’s Cloud Nine.
Kygo has recently shot to popularity, largely on the back of his huge single, Firestone. The track is represented on the album, and it’s probably still the best demonstration of what he does well. Conrad Sewell gives a strong performance, singing an effortless catchy hook, that stops just short of being overtly cheesy. Kygo’s warm pads and clipped synths are hardly revolutionary, but they stick in the brain, and show his potential as a killer pop artist. It’s unfortunate then, that he’s functionally made the same song 14 times over.
The opening few tracks of the album are actually quite fun. Stole the Show feels like a piano-driven version of Firestone, with Parson James subbing in for Conrad Sewell. It’s not as strong, but it’s still very catchy, and the woodwind (I think) riff that plays in the chorus is lots of fun. Fiction is actually something of a change of pace, with a rock-esque guitar riff providing the main melody for the track. It provides a bit of grit in an otherwise perfectly smooth album, which is both good and bad. It is fun in of itself, but it certainly highlights the textural deficiency of the rest of the album.
After Firestone, the album quickly devolves into a series of same-y, repetitive pop songs. Individually, they all sound fine (except for the John Legend-led Happy Birthday, which is pretty terrible), but combined they merge into a kind of sonic malaise. It doesn’t help the the guest vocalists in the second half of the album receive much less memorable melodies than their precursors. The Matt Corby-featuring Serious is almost shockingly dull, somehow avoiding his natural charisma, and casting him as just another anonymous voice in a sea of the same.
Kygo’s sound is pleasant, and he has the capacity to make amazing singles, but it’s entirely possible the soft-EDM sound just isn’t suited to the album format. Any of the first 5 tracks is a great listen on its own, and many of the others likely would be the same, but when taken as a collection, it’s painfully formulaic. Cloud Nine wants to be an album of summer jams, but it just lacks the energy and variety to do so.