Avicii mixes a little country with Swedish house on ‘True’

Alexander McCall

Swedish house musician Avicii, best known for his Etta-James-sampling 2011 smash “Levels,” pulled an upset at this year’s Ultra Music Festival when he invited bluegrass musicians onstage.

On paper, it seems that the pairing of country music and Avicii’s somewhat brash, poppy electro-house simply wouldn’t work, but bluegrass reappears on Avicii’s latest release.

Remarkably, Avicii’s debut studio album “True,” which dropped Sept. 13 is overstuffed and eclectic, but almost always manages to scan as the same smooth, hammy pop on which the DJ made his name.

The album functions as dancefloor-ready pop as the “country” aspects of the music are more in line with the major-key soul Avicii already dabbled in than with classic country.

Only two songs, “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother,” really contain what could be called country music and the former is far more successful. Aloe Blacc’s country-soul vocals naturally bleed into Avicii’s pinging keyboard-led house stomp and vice versa.

The Southern twang of the verses in “Hey Brother” isn’t as good a match with the song’s beat. Further, the song suffers from weaker lyrics delivered a little less genuinely.

It’s easy to get the feeling that the hugely accessible, unabashedly cheesy atmosphere on “True” is a bit insincere. Pop that is this shamelessly straightforward is often meant as fodder for radio and clubs instead of truly innovative experiments in electronic music.

That said, “True” has a number of little surprises that keep the music interesting and exceedingly catchy.

“Liar Liar” sports a wild old-school organ riff that gives its two strong hooks more warmth. “Heart Upon My Sleeve,” the album’s best classic house number, pits light acoustic moments against a heavy, string-laden pulse and makes it difficult to resist the urge to dance.

One of the biggest surprises comes from a totally earnest rave cover of Antony & the Johnson’s classic indie piano ballad “Hope There’s Someone.” Avicii coaxes new chord progressions out of the melody and works in some distorted, emotive bass.

Despite the album’s handful of great moments and overall consistency, it does feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Avicii writes all his music here with assistance from members of Incubus, Imagine Dragons, Alison Krauss’ band and disco legend Nile Rodgers, recently famous for his contributions to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

This is to say that Avicii seems content to let his simple, crowd-pleasing house sit surrounded and frequently dwarfed by input from other, better writers.

This approach has certainly produced an enjoyable pop album, but it would be more interesting to see where Avicii would go if given an album all to himself.

Rating: Three out of five stars

REVIEW: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter