Kaskade, “Love Mysterious”
Though Ryan Raddon (a.k.a. Kaskade) is best known for colorful, poppy house music, his well-traveled career and A&R work play as much a role in his new album as his characteristic sound. Born and raised in Chicago, cutting his teeth DJing in Salt Lake City and establishing a home base in San Francisco, Raddon has sampled the vibes and aesthetics of a few disparate scenes. He’s also been exposed to a wide range of acts as the A&R guy at OM Records, where he’s been cherry-picked Ming & FS, King Britt and Soulstice for their roster. With Love Mysterious, Kaskade’s fifth full-length, Raddon’s keen ear for dancefloor-filling sounds has shifted his own beyond the scope of house.
Kaskade’s first hit came in 2005 with “Stepping Out,” a song-shaped, emotional tune that could pass for a house remix of a rock song with filtered guitar strums and live drums. Much of Love Mysterious follows in this vein, utilizing guitars and compact song lengths, at times dropping the dance component completely. “Stars Align” launches the album into orbit with hopeful energy, galloping house rhythms and Marcus Bentley’s steady pipes. “See what you could be / when you know you shine for me,” Bentley urges buoyantly and establishes a cheerful-if-cheesy tone for the album. The soaring, guitar-led number “Be Still” emulates and electrocutes latter day Madonna production, its pulse climbing almost as high as the sky-scraping female vocals. Though “Be Still” nearly reaches critical mass, Raddon also scales it back – slightly — to let pleasant grooves do more of the work. “In This Life” is breezy and soulful like spontaneous beach rave; “Never Ending” vibrantly melds simple house motifs with Joslyn’s breathy assurances and ends up one of the better songs morning after tunes of the year.
While these tracks are joyful and enjoyable, they’re also fairly close to Kaskade’s status quo. Raddon reaches further on songs such as “Sorry” and “Distance,” both of which scale back the effervescence. The dizzy former blurs its remorseful vocals like Ulrich Schnauss bends his tones, resulting in vague dissonance that smudges the song’s pop shine. Despite its mid-range tempo, the latter’s soft keyboards, rubbery bassline and pensive vocals make “Distance” one of the album’s most chilled out tracks. But the title of most relaxed goes hands down to Love Mysterious closer “4 AM.” Blissful and perfectly orchestrated, it’s also the album’s most traditionally rock tune. Casually strummed guitar and a blanket of synth melody hang in the air, only broken up by drum programming that sounds suspiciously as if it were played on a set. Eventually doing away with all percussion, Raddon suspends listeners in the clouds while gently cooed lyrics attest, “there’s a way / there’s a way, I know.” Like the last sigh before dropping off into sleep, “4 AM” carefully ushers listeners from the album’s confines and into silence.
Not all of Raddon’s attempts to broaden his palate work as effectively. Squelchy synth rave ups are sore thumbs in the otherwise hushed “All You,” a track which zigs vigorously instead of zagging the low-key route. “Sometimes” carries on as if listeners hadn’t already heard “Stars Align;” and though its motif is darker, overly familiar methods and extended length find it lacking much original thought — though not offensive to the ears. Perhaps the greatest mistake on Love Mysterious is not a misstep, but a missed opportunity: “Fake” is one of Kaskade’s more interesting departures, pairing palpitating synth geometry and sultry vocals. The tense tune begs for a surmountable climax and is instead chopped short just before three minutes length, whimpering to a close.
By nature, Ryan Raddon seems suited to try new things, whether it’s a choice of city or style. His instincts to wander from the house base camp were good; and though he only moved a few steps away, Love Mysterious is a compelling album for it. Of course there are going to be stumbles on the path of exploration, and his are not serious enough to turn off many fans. In fact, this very song-based record may be the one to expand his adoring fanbase beyond those who go bump bump bump in the night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.