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Zedd's 'Clarity' Is a Dance-Pop Classic That Means Far More on Its Six-Year Anniversary Than Ever Before
This article was originally published on the five-year anniversary of Clarity. We have edited the post to reflect its new anniversary. Below, readers will find tweets Zedd published after this post was shared which describe his process on the album and reaction to its original reception in greater detail.
This week marks the six-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 that 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 six years later, it's classic status could never be denied.
Congratulations, Zedd, and to Clarity, we say happy birthday.
clarity has gotten so much love but also loads of people hating it ... i remember reading a 2 star review on the album back then...— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
i put so much thought and work in to, it was really hurtful back then to see someone just not understanding it and then reviewing it poorly.— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
i half-jokingly told my manager it would take the world 5 years to appreciate the album.... well, here we are, 5 years later lol...— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
it's so nice to see that over time people picked up on the details of the album... the frame structure, the clock looping the album etc.— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
at the end the melody and chords from the last song (epos) slowly transition in to the ones from song 1 (hourglass) making it a full circle.— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
when i released the album i said that hopefully 5 years from now people will look back at the album as one that changed dance music forever— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
reading this article and seeing the appreciation it gathered over the last years i'm really proud of it, i have to say.— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017
i think it's a good time for me to thank you all for the support through out my career. i could not have done this without you.— Zedd (@Zedd) October 10, 2017