It exists. Twelve years after Swedish House Mafia released their debut single, 2010’s “One,” the archetypal EDM-era supertrio has dropped their long-awaited, hotly anticipated, much-debated debut album, Paradise Again.
Out today (April 15) via Republic Records, the album is the cornerstone of the group’s extended comeback, which launched last July with the first two new Swedish House Mafia singles in nine years. Billboard was with the group in their native Stockholm last summer while the trio — Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso — were making preparations for this return, which along with the album will deliver a one-two-punch this Sunday when the group closes out Coachella’s mainstage during a co-headlining set with The Weeknd.
Dropping Paradise Again two days ahead of their Coachella show — the group’s first U.S. set since 2018, when they launched a stop/start comeback after a five year hiatus — is certainly a comeback power move. That said, it’s one that also gives fans at the festival little time to fully familiarize themselves with Paradise Again’s 17 songs — though that number also includes the previously released singles “Redlight,” “Lifetime,” “It Gets Better” and “Moth To a Flame.” The latter, a sleek, sexed-up collaboration with The Weeknd, is currently clocking its 24th week on Dance/Electronic Songs, and is the glue that legitimizes a co-headlining show with the two acts.
Both, of course, also happen to be helmed by superstar manager Sal Slaiby, who delivered two of his biggest artists to the apex of the Coachella lineup after Ye dropped out out of the Sunday night slot last minute. While Swedish House Mafia — who headlined the fest months before announcing their breakup in 2012 — had previously been floating at the bottom of the lineup poster in large font unattached to a day or hierarchical position, theoretically festival organizers felt that pairing the group with one of the hottest pop stars in modern music as headliners would appease both SHM’s longtime fans, and younger demographics who may at this point be more familiar with The Weeknd.
This pairing also speaks to one of the essential questions Paradise Again exists to answer: Is Swedish House Mafia a nostalgia act, appealing to a now-elder(ish) generation present for the trio’s first ecstatic confetti-blasting go-round a decade ago. Or can the group — who created the mold for EDM, and served as one of the genre’s most successful acts despite breaking up at the peak of their fame — evolve along with the dance scene while also continuing to themselves evolve it?
“It was just like, ‘What the f–k do we do? How do we come back? Do we just give them another [version of] what we’ve done before?’” Ingrosso told Billboard last summer in regards to the group evolving its sound. “I was like, ‘F–k that; it’s depressing to go back. It’s disgusting to go back.’ ”
On Paradise Again, they indeed sidestep returning to the sound that made them famous, trading their signature big room, maximalist bangers for songs of a subtler, more mature, but still extremely danceable variety.
Many may find it hard to believe that more than a decade into their tenure, the group hasn’t actually yet released an album. It’s true: While 2012’s Until Now was marketed as an album, it functioned essentially a mixtape built to house SHM’s big singles, along with singles from other dance artists as padding. The dance scene in that era certainly did not demand LPs, as there was no reason (or realistically, time) to do one when you could tour the world several times over with six songs. But while Paradise Again is a gamble in the sense that it finds the group embracing an entirely new sound, well after the dance scene has moved on from the sound Swedish House Mafia pioneered, it effectively shores up and expands their artistic legacy in a way that a very of-the-era classic like the 2012’s “Greyhound” may not. While Swedish House Mafia was also famous for their live shows (and are launching a world tour in late July), Paradise Again nimbly demonstrates that the group doesn’t require pyro and lasers to justify their rightful place as dance world leaders.
In the big picture, Paradise Again accomplishes two key feats: With its 17 tracks, it nearly quadruples the number of songs in the Swedish House Mafia catalog, which previously held just six tracks. The new LP also entirely sloughs off the bombastic, hooky, drop-heavy EDM sound that these previous six singles so powerfully embodied, trading the walls of synth and singalong power choruses of hits like “Don’t You Worry Child” for music delving deeper into and farther across both sounds and sub-genres like ambient, house, hip-hop and disco. The exploration parallels the album’s foray deeper into the internal realities of three guys who — like all of us — are older and wiser now than when they started.
Of course, main stage artists consciously evolving beyond EDM isn’t a new phenomenon. Calvin Harris did it effectively on Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1. The posthumous Avicii album, 2019’s Tim, featured smaller, tighter productions than mega-hits like “Levels” or “Wake Me Up.” Hardwell debuted his new sound, a sort of supercharged mainstage techno, last month at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. As house and techno have become the pre-eminent sounds in mainstream dance music during the last half-decade, going back not only would have been indeed been “depressing” and “disgusting,” but out of sync with current trends.
Not to say that Paradise Again is particularly trendy: The album contains none of the milquetoast house or paint-by-numbers techno currently prevalent in the scene. Instead, the album feels like Axwell, Ingrosso and Angello are fully flexing into their interests and influences — house (and especially gospel house), hip-hop, ambient, techno, IDM — and getting as weird and experimental as they want to be, and perhaps weirder and more experimental than the structures of EDM allowed during their initial foray. If there’s a unifying ethos on the album, it’s one of meticulousness. Swedish House Mafia are famously perfectionistic, which Ingrosso noted “kills us also sometimes. But for us, it needs to be a certain way. And that’s why it takes time.”
More than a decade after their takeover of the dance scene, the depth and subtlety of Paradise Again reflects that the time taken was worth it. Here are our picks for seven of the most essential tracks on Paradise Again.
“Time” (feat. Mapei)
The first voice heard on the album is that of Swedish vocalist Mapei, who — perhaps in a nod to how long this album took to make — declares in rich baritone that it “takes time to heal, takes time to know where your heart is at, takes time to be real.” The production here is alternatingly spare and lush IDM, not so far from some of the Four Tet/Jamie xx oeuvre. And the drop here actually works in reverse, with the song shrinking in size in the same place where previous SHM tracks exploded into total frenzies.
The album’s most ominous track is composed primarily of a buzzsaw synth and a horn played at ominous pitch before a kickdrum enters, and the track then pivots into a hip-hop production — a nod to Angello’s longstanding love of the genre — before ending in doomy cacophony. “You always want people to like your music, otherwise you wouldn’t play it to them,” Ingrosso told Billboard last summer. “But the vision of the album, for me, it’s not really important if it sells 400 million [copies] or 10.” Certainly Paradise Again will move units well above this base number, but Ingrosso’s sentiment — speaking to them just doing whatever suits their vision and makes them happy — is emphasized with “Mafia” and a few of the other more experimental album tracks like it.
“Frankenstein” (feat. A$AP Rocky)
It’s alive! This long-buzzed-about collaboration between SHM and A$AP Rocky — which was road-tested during SHM’s 2019 tour and is the subject of long and speculative Reddit threads — comes into complete existence via plodding bass, high hats, a persistent whistle and thunder clashes. An-out-of nowhere BPM spike launches an especially animated second half, during which A$AP Rocky’s flows about being “in the mosh pit, fitting to f–k up s–t” hit with particularly raw power.
“Don’t Go Mad” Feat. Seinabo Sey
SHM’s take on disco also delivers serious Daft Punk, via sinewy chrome synths and lush vocals from Swedish singer Seinabo Sey. Again, this song shrinks in the spot where the drop would formally be, making space for vocals and then a darkly pulsing synth, which gets progressively faster as it motors the peak-time anthem to its hypnotic apex.
This album’s deep embrace of gospel house shows up again with “Calling On” a darkly euphoric swirl built around a rich vocal sample from late gospel great Cassietta George’s 1967 recording of “In the Garden.” “I come to the garden alone,” George sings while sirens rise dramatically around her in a peak that will likely become a standard singalong moment as fans get more acquainted with these songs.
Finally, a Swedish House Mafia track for the after hours. This pulsing downtempo “Home” bumps along with one piano chord, low-key scintillating percussion and a wailing vocal sample that aches with emotion. Like “Mafia,” this one isn’t the most obvious or hooky song on the album, but it’s one of its most subtle and sophisticated, and overall best.
While SHM previously orchestrated emotional oomph with big fist-pump melodies about heaven’s plan for you, Paradise Again‘s closing track tear-jerks with greater nuance, via spare piano chords paired with solo voices, an exultant gospel choir chanting “for you!” and increasingly effervescent productions that altogether swell, a lot like the lump in your throat as this one hits that sentimental sweet spot. The group says it wrote this one for the fans — and while the lyrics don’t say it outright, there’s a message about the passage of time here. Bright, loud and often relentlessly optimistic, there was a naïveté to EDM in its insistence on everyone putting their f–king hands up to have a good time, while rarely acknowledging the often more painful realities of daily existence that the EDM scene served as an escape from. That attitude is jettisoned on this one, with peak emotions here also tinged with melancholy in a nod to the dichotomy of life, the maturity of the group, their sound, their fans and of the dance scene itself.