This week marks the five-year anniversary of Zedd‘s debut album, Clarity. Its release in October of 2012 heralded a new kind of dance-pop that would propel the then 23-year-old producer into the upper echelons of his peers, both in and outside of the dance music community.
It was not an overnight classic. It drew criticism from the music journalism establishment who, before its release, could have easily dismissed the growing “EDM” phenomenon as a fad. Today, it’s abundantly clear that Zedd and his ilk have become some of the most influential composers in contemporary music, and the path toward radio domination he helped pioneer has made way for electronic dance music as one of this country’s most profitable mainstays, giving birth to a format and audience that benefits the Chainsmokers, Martin Garrix and more.
Clarity is a time capsule more meaningful in retrospect than it could have been when first released. Hits “Spectrum” and the album’s title track typify an era all the more succinct in hindsight. It’s fitting, then, how the album bookends with the tick of a clock. It’s still got those raw, neon edge dance floors craved before the dark, hip-hop influence of the 2012 trap explosion. You can still hear the roots of blog house-era icons Daft Punk and Justice in its hard rhythms and jumping synths, and yet, it represents a big shift in dance music’s American cultural capacity. The album is undoubtedly an emboldened node on the timeline of the genre’s pop-crossover potential. “Spectrum” and “Clarity” topped the Dance Club Songs chart, and “Clarity” earned Zedd his first Hot 100 top 10. Lady Gaga brought Zedd on tour as an opener, opening the door for his own pop empire to take hold.
The album embodies a level of cohesion most artists strive for when writing a debut, but often miss. The first melodic line of opener “Hourglass” is mirrored in the final moments of the LP, just as the end of “Hourglass” melts seamlessly into second track and lead single “Shave It.” The frenetic atmosphere of “Codec” merges into the wildness of “Stache” so effortlessly, you’d hardly know the song had changed. The title of album closer “Epos” means “a number of poems that treat an epic theme but are not formally united.” It’s a five-and-a-half-minute composition devoid of a single vocal, carried exclusively by a range of sounds both fat and gritty, magical and shimmering.
Zedd expertly weaves his classical training in and out of his electronic palette, featuring strings and piano elements inside robust, computerized noise. Yes, it wears its influences like a badge. The guitar-like breakdown on promo single “Stache” is a blitzkrieg of electro and complextro elements, a vibrant melody in the vein of Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic” with heavy Justice-style chords. “Codec” is at times quite reminiscent of deadmau5, Calvin Harris’ airy club-house grooves shine through on “Follow You Down” and the whole thing smacks of early Wolfgang Gartner, but none of those artists could have filtered all these sounds into one product. It took Zedd to bring the varying routes of pre-pop dance production together under one roof, and still, he managed to take his music further up the charts than most of his predecessors.
Clarity got a reissue less than a year later, in 2013, a clear sign of a market shift fueled by his vision. Today, it stands strong as a classic peek into a moment in time, both for its creator and the world he helped shape with his sounds. It may not have been heralded an instant classic in 2012, but it has fought tooth and nail for the distinction, and five years later, it’s classic status could never be denied.
Congratulations, Zedd, and to Clarity, we say happy birthday.
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