HiFi Album of the Month: Zedd’s True Colors

[It can be great fun writing about compassionately about something you might otherwise write off. I am, by all accounts, not an EDM fan, but I approached this piece – and the subsequent interview with Zedd – with an open mind, and ended up learning to appreciate new things about a kind of music I generally try to ignore.]

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Sometimes an album challenges every prejudice you have about a genre of music.

On Zedd’s True Colors, the multi-platinum EDM artist accomplishes just that.

With his follow up to his 2012 album debut, Clarity, Zedd – real name Anton Zaslavski – delivers a record that pushes the musical and artistic envelope of what the often-maligned arena of electronic dance music.

Both frenetic and graceful, intricately composed and emotionally rich, True Colorstakes its title from the album’s stripped-back centerpiece.

By Zedd’s own description, the song is about “finally getting the courage to show the world who I really am as a musician.” Said in another way, showing his own true colors means pursuing a level of artistry and sophistication that is all but discouraged in a music form largely consumed in neon-lit raves and substance-fueled dance festivals, where the popularity of a track and the climactic oomph of its bass drop rule supreme.

“…It would be simple enough for him to bounce 11 sparkler-in-the-champagne cuts and cash a check,” writes Nick “Catchdubs” Barat in a glowing piece for The Talkhouse, “Yet Zedd’s personal brand is classically trained, all-caps MUSICIAN.” The DJ/producer and co-founder of Fool’s Gold Records goes on to say, “As much as the album is marketed as dance-pop…I prefer to think of it as prog-rock with drops.”

Of course we cannot fail to mention an uncompromising attention to detailed production and sound quality, an all-too-rare occurrence in the ever-compressed, ever-convenient age of digital shortcuts. “I feel cheated when I hear music and I feel like someone didn’t think it through,” says Zedd. “It’s really important to me that when I hear a song, I feel like they considered every aspect and detail of it.”

It wasn’t all that long ago, before he started making music as Zedd in 2009, that Anton Zaslavski was skeptical of EDM himself.

“Back then I was into jazz and rock. I didn’t really know much about electronic music, but everything I would ever hear would be kind of ‘dumb’, in a way,” says Zedd in a forthcoming interview with TIDAL. “That’s not very musically attractive to someone who was a piano student at the time.”

He said his opinion started to change when he heard songs like Daft Punk’s “One More Time” and other examples of electronic music that contain emotionalism and compositional complexity. Zedd remembers how when he later heard Justice’s 2007 album, † (a.k.a. Cross), which he considers “probably the best-produced electronic album of all time,” he realized, ”I really wanted to know out how to make sounds like that myself.”

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To achieve True Colors’ eclectic sound, Zedd mined his own varied musical history.

A classically trained musician who learned piano at age four, the Russian-born, German-raised artist explored everything from metal to house music before becoming known as an EDM star. For True Colors he mindfully studied everything from alt-rock and pop, to soul and hip-hop, to just about anything except electronic music. Specifically he notes Radiohead, Queen and progressive rock stalwarts King Crimson as direct influence on the album.

Not only essential in expanding his creativity, that openness for exterior influence ultimately serves a higher purpose for Zedd.

“One of my goals in making this album was to bring the focus back to the music, not just production and sounds and the whole club element of whether it’s going to make people jump,” says Zedd. “It’s important to me to make something that’s complex and in-depth and that leads the culture into a new direction, and hopefully ends up pushing the barriers of what’s possible with EDM.”

Conceptually, True Colors is deeply preoccupied with color and light, with each song associated with a specific aural pigment.

“I hear color in all the music I write, and for this album I wanted to really focus in on that concept and take it to a new level,” says Zedd. For instance, the track “Addicted to Memory” opens True Colors with a hypnotic piece of electro-pop that Zedd says he sees in purple, the color of passion and mystery.

Leading up to the album’s release, Zedd indeed took this color-centric concept to a grand scale by organizing a series of exclusive fan-only listening events to give each track its own extravagant debut.

This included lighting up an Austin, TX canyon in glowing purple lights to unveil “Addicted to Memory,” hosting a pitch black party on San Francisco’s Alcatraz for the dark, bass-heavy “Transmission,” flying a fleet of helicopters over the Grand Canyon while listening to “Done With Love” in teal headphones, burning a giant wooden “Z” in the Joshua Tree desert for “Straight into the Fire,” and illuminating the entire interior of Denver’s Stanley Hotel (ofThe Shining fame) solely with blue lightbulbs for the melancholy track “Illusion.”

For the final event, he rented out New York’s Empire State Building to performed an acoustic version of title track, “True Colors,” as the exterior of the iconic skyscraper pulsed in the full width of the color spectrum.



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