by: Rachel Narozniak
Oct 12, 2018
“2012 was the best year in electronic music” is a statement that has become somewhat of an epithet in veteran dance music listeners’ discussions of the evolution of EDM. To bookmark 2012 as one of the preeminent chapters–or even the preeminent chapter–in the history of electronic music is not to disavow or turn a deaf ear to the strides that the genre has made in the ensuing six years, but to reflect with particular fondness on EDM’s gradual breakthrough into mainstream culture, a piercing of the commercial veil enacted with genre defining fervor.
Back track to 2012, wherein Skrillex had become a household name, and would go on to release the first Dog Blood EP–Next Order/Middle Finger–that August, as Swedish House Mafia prepared for their worldwide live farewell, One Last Tour, after announcing their imminent disbandment in June. Avicii, Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and Swedish House Mafia had all secured Grammy nominations for 2012’s Best Dance Recording as Swedish House Mafia’s “Save the World,” Harris’ “Sweet Nothing,” and Alesso‘s “City of Dreams” began to exert a hold on the charts. In the midst of it all, a Russian-German DJ by the stage name of “Zedd” would drop his debut studio album, Clarity. October 5, 2012 is a date significant in that it then marked Clarity’s arrival via Interscope Records. Now, the date represents not only the sixth anniversary of Zedd’s inaugural extended production, but a specific and isolated moment in the history of electronic music at which point the genre would be irrevocably influenced by the transcendent work of an artist still relatively new to the scene, a moment that can perhaps only be fully recognized for its impact on EDM only years later, retrospectively.
The highly anticipated project from the former OWSLA signee seamlessly melded Zedd’s background as a classical musician with his acute ear for original electronic sound constructions, resulting in a 10-track showing led by the Matthew Koma assisted single, “Spectrum,” and the namesake, reigning electronic classic, “Clarity.” Arguably one of the most readily recognizable electronic songs to ever gain a release, “Clarity” would go on to become Zedd’s very first gold record, and two-years later, would earn the 23-year-old producer his first Grammy Award for “Best Dance Recording.” Although “Clarity” has aged exceedingly well following its 2012 debut, the album favorite only tells a fraction of the story that is Clarity. Clarity was–and remains–noteworthy for its engagement of a series of different electronic subgenres, including electro and progressive, with dabbles in electro house, progressive house, and pop likewise evident. The diversity of sound embodied on Clarity bespoke Zedd’s determination to push the envelope to consequently gift 2012 EDM a meticulously constructed and exploratory concept album.
While many major 2012 dance albums surfaced as packages of standalone singles marketed as one comprehensive multi-track offering, Clarity composed a sonic narrative. Clarity’s status as a concept album materialized not solely in the technical repetition of vocal-centric track stylings–“Spectrum,” the Ryan Tedder feature, “Lost At Sea,” “Clarity,” the Ellie Goulding and Lucky Date powered “Fall Into The Sky,” and the Bright Lights vocalized “Follow You Down”–but in the sharp attention to detail that Zedd exhibited on the album, where no detail was too minuscule to evade the producer’s notice. Take for example album concluder “Epos’”subtle transition into a closing blend of chords and melody, the very same amalgamation of chords and melody with which Zedd begins the album on Clarity’s opening song, “Hourglass.” “Epos’” fade out, only to fade into the introductory chords and melody of “Hourglass,” creates a full circle, closed loop album effect, while underscoring Zedd’s careful and deliberate structuring of the album.
The ticking sound evocative of a clock that appears in Zedd’s 2017 single “Stay,” and 2018’s “The Middle” surfaces at the beginning of “Hourglass” to figuratively set Clarity in motion, and again reappears in the pacing of the synth work of “Epos,” just past the tune’s two-minute mark, where the rhythm of the synth takes on a sound akin to that of a ticking clock. Not to be overlooked is the end of “Epos,” which adopts not only the chords and melody of “Hourglass,” but the very same ticking noise which conveys to streamers that while they have now listened to the album in its full extent, they can just as easily begin listening again, given the smooth transition from Clarity’s final to opening song.
Clarity duly strived for and achieved cohesion, and in the process, revolutionized electronic dance music in its presentation of a highly innovative and cerebral collection of tracks threaded with common technical themes. Clarity in turn produced a distinctive kind of clarity in that Zedd’s sonic vision for his debut album became progressively more perceptible during the listening experience, as each successive track listing built off of the preceding one, to render Zedd’s then budding expertise similarly increasingly conspicuous. The irony inherent in the title of Zedd’s debut album resides in the reality that the depth of the influence of a release that will later be branded “highly influential” can only be observed in its full extent much later, after that release has exerted said influence. The six years that have followed Clarity’s 2012 arrival evidence the album’s longterm impact on electronic music, to in turn shed the clarity that Clarity not only would, but has forever changed the landscape of dance music. Happy birthday, Clarity.