Avicii’s ‘Tim’ Provides a Deeper Look Into the Mind of the Late EDM Superstar
Avicii can be largely credited for the prominence of EDM as we know it. His 2011 single “Levels” came at the cusp of the decade and proved a glittering harbinger of the craze that would sweep the whole world in subsequent years, and still remains an integral component in the core of contemporary popular music. Avicii’s presumed suicide last year could scarcely have been less expected, as his music generally rung like the sound of free, unbridled ecstacy. A closer look into some of his lyrics, however, reveals a certain depth often overlooked, one that finds a deeper focus on his new posthumous album. Aptly titled “Tim,” it offers a well-rounded portrait of the Swedish producer extraordinaire, Tim Bergling, collecting his unfinished works, and bringing them to fruition.
In the context of this release, there could hardly be a more appropriate opener than “Peace of Mind.” The dance floor fireworks that we best know Avicii for take the backburner, for a rather serene number in fitting with its title. Coproducers Vargas & Lagola have spoken of how the lyrics were largely influenced by the suffocating effect of social media — of always being plugged in and switched on. The gliding, sustained voicings of words like “peace” and “silence” effectively capture the sentiment. When a beat takes root, adding just enough understated punch to frame the track in Avicii’s recognized realm, the contrast between the carefree rhythm and the pleas for peace of mind sung over it give a sense of feeling at odds — dancing and smiling while tearing from the seams. Posed questions like “Do you wanna be free? Do you want to let go?” could even ring like tongue-in-cheek taunts to a crowd of perennially ecstatic dancers, although Avicii’s reputation for good humour and sincerity throws that into question.
Coldplay’s Chris Martin showcases his unmistakable voice and equally unmistakable prosaicness on “Heaven,” a gleeful, giddy number seemingly designed for dancing euphorically — fist bumping, arms flailing, you name it. Funnily, Avicii and Martin really come across as something of a match made in heaven, with the former’s blissful, twinking synth lines and the latter’s star gazing utterances complementing each other immaculately. When Martin resorts to the beyond-tired knee-jerk trend of a wretched “Woah-oh” chorus, however, it makes his line, “I think I just died” very convincing. “SOS” pairs Avicii with Aloe Blacc, reuniting the team behind the seminal hit that was “Wake Me Up.” There’s a striking change in dynamics, as Blacc is stylistically worlds away from Chris Martin. He’s the stuff of South Beach nightclubs, except with an extra command and “soulfulness” that makes itself manifest in every syllable. The song borrows its chorus melody from TLC’s 1999 hit “No Scrubs,” but in the way of a self-aware nod. Over a minimal beat, Avicii drops a syncopated synth refrain that makes all the difference. Killer sharp and irresistibly mobilizing, it’s a shining example of everything with which Avicii has become synonymous.
“Tough Love” channels the decadence that Avicii’s strain of EDM generally brings to mind into new avenues, with some brazenly ornate strings bits that vaguely recall elements of Bollywood production, and a fittingly booming chorus. “Bad Reputation” is a readymade hit if there ever were one, replete with a building rise, pitched down vocal snippet, and cathartic drop. “Ain’t A Thing” is a darker, more subdued variant of this same general formula, and lines like “I swear I’m losing patience,” delivered by frequent collaborator Bonn. “Hold the Line” features A R I Z O N A, a band who wears Avicii’s influence on their sleeve, and their presence on this album makes that influence stand out more vividly than ever, in a way that makes one truly appreciate the exchange of ideas and aesthetic sensibilities that works itself naturally into music, and that we often take for granted. The lyrics “We don’t get to die young” are a bit hard to savor, considering the circumstances, but of course, they lend themselves to myriad interpretations.
Bonn returns for “Freak,” and his chemistry with the mastermind behind the decks is simply undeniable. This is Acicii at his most unabashedly gleeful, full of bright synth tones, whistling tones that shift timbres, and sounds that inhabit a sphere somewhere between Disney frolicking and dancefloor mania. So far, the album is so painstakingly and adeptly crafted that one would never guess it to be a release finished posthumously. Sadly, it all goes awry come the monstrosity of “Excuse Me Mr. Sir,” a slapdash patching together of bits that vaguely recall the likes of such disparate artists as Oasis, Kid Rock, and the Spice Girls, all tossed into a gawdy mess, hardly tied together by a farce of Avicii’s signature moves. “Heart Upon My Sleeve” provides some sorely needed relief, with Imagine Dragons going above and beyond their usual capacity. Singer Dan Reynolds might just contribute the most compelling vocal performance of the album, delivering emotion in a way that’s unabashedly histrionic without seeming contrived. He soars to outright screaming, upon the line“Where are you?” backed by cinematic strings that give it a dramatic flair. Once again, this is an exceptional collaboration, in that it magnifies all the strong points of both Avicii and Imagine Dragons, creating a forceful EDM pop juggernaut
“Never Leave Me” starts strikingly mellow and soothing, after the onslaught of its predecessor. If the emblems of Avicii’s signature production style make the album predictable, the vocal variety on display balances that out. This songs is at once cheerily buoyant and somewhat undecidedly reflective, serving as an effective example of the rich emotional spectrum that exists under the surface of a style of music too often dismissed as mere feelgood fodder. “Fades Away” might be the least overtly dancey track of Avicii’s entire output, although the trademark touches are still there, only subdued. In this way, it brings the album full circle, easing the dance equipment gracefully out of focus. Singer “Noonie Bao” has an exceptionally alluring, soothing voice, and as she sings “It all just fades away,” you can feel the party still going strong, as you pan out from the scene.
Posthumous albums can, at times, be atrocities — shameless attempts to capitalize on dead artists. Avicii’s music has always been unreservedly commercial, and his sound has penetrated popular culture to such an extent that it might make an undertaking like “Tim” a bit more easily convincing than a project honoring some more insular artist. Even considering this, however, this album is surprisingly satisfying. The guest features are all indispensable, the tunes are mostly bangers, and overall, it’s a work that effectively preserves the spirit of Avicii’s music.
“Tim” is available June 7 on Apple Music.