Kaskade – Fire & Ice

When I first heard It’s You, It’s Me, I can’t say I envisaged Kaskade’s career trajectory. I dropped him into my box of deep house producers alongside Miguel Migs and Andy Caldwell, but it turned out that Mr Raddon had his sights set on bigger things.

Remixing artists as diverse as Seal, Rufus Wainwright and Timbaland, causing riots in LA, and taking EDM to the masses in America are all noble endeavours, but some of his more recent studio material hasn’t really done much for me. Saying that, I have the utmost respect for him, in the way he seems to balance a cool credibility with a clever commerciality, in contrast to the hyper-populism of David Guetta.

Following hot on the heels of last year’s Dynasty album, Fire & Ice has an interesting double-album concept behind it. Music history tells us that the double album is typically the space in which an artist or band with too much time and money on their hands engages in a series of self-indulgent sonic explorations.

But there’s no need to fear any kind of Beatles-esque White Album disaster here. We get two discs of the same songs, with one disc featuring the ‘fire’ versions and the other featuring ‘ice’ remixes, the idea being that the former is upbeat and dance-focused, in contrast to the latter’s more down-tempo and relaxed vibe.

I was going to review this by comparing and contrasting the two versions of each track, but then I figured it would be more logical to look at each disc separately. Fire gets off to a flying start with the gorgeous house cut Eyes, which features a delicate vocal from Mindy Gledhill and builds into a euphoric synth-driven gem. Turn It Down is a peak-time monster collaboration with Swedish DJ and production duo Rebecca & Fiona (listen below), while Neon Trees (of radio hit Animal fame) put in an appearance on the similarly massive Lessons In Love.

On paper, I’d say the pairing of Kaskade and Skrillex would raise a few eyebrows, but on the strength of the surging, bass-heavy Lick It, they’ve pulled an epic out of the hat. Regular Kaskade collaborator Haley Gibby lends her fragile vocals to the uplifting house textures of Llove (because one ‘L’ just isn’t enough), and Let Me Go sees vocalist Marcus Bently turn in an impassioned performance that perfectly complements the subtle builds and layers of Kaskade’s smooth production work.

Waste Love is a definite highlight, a collaboration with Danish duo Quadron that oozes soulful house vibes from its bouncing rhythmic framework. The efforts of Dada Life on the Dan Black– featuring ICE will no doubt excite a few electro lovers out there, but I’m not convinced by the track’s brashness, and for me it’s a solitary weak spot on the album.

Much more impressive is How Long, an absolutely beautiful house cut with ripples of trance that draws on the talents of Inpetto and Kaskade’s Late Night Alumni bandmates. Listen to a sample below.

Saving the best for last, the album closes with Room For Happiness, a track I’m nominating as tune of 2011. Utilising the angelic vocals of Skylar Grey, I’m inclined to suggest that Kaskade has equalled, if not surpassed, the measured sonic beauty and sophistication of It’s You, It’s Me, and if you still need convincing of the man’s talents, look no further.

If you’re more in the mood for kicking back and relaxing, then the disc of Ice remixes should do the job. The tracks are sequenced in exactly the same order as the Fire disc, but the listening experience is completely different. Highlights include Eyes, which gets completely transformed into a haunting piano-driven delicacy, and the funky, disco, instrumental re-work of Lessons In Love which surpasses the original and could have come straight off an old Defected compilation. In fact, most of the remixes sound so dissimilar to their original versions they could be different tracks entirely, and so comparing and contrasting them probably isn’t the right approach.

It has to be a sign of a job well done that this disc could stand up as an album in its own right. Lick It becomes a fragile piece of chill-house with gradually building layers of lush synths, and the exquisite deep vibes of How Long recall some of the early Naked Music releases, and so it’s the standout track for me. Not far behind is Room For Happiness, with its string quartet and piano sitting perfectly alongside Skylar Grey’s vocals. Not all of the remixes are entirely successful, with the handclap-heavy rhythmic backing of Llove just sounding odd and a little emotionless, while the chiming guitars and vocal harmonies on Let Me Go give it a touch of Coldplay (although maybe that’s a good thing…).

When I first saw this was a double album, I feared the worst, thinking Kaskade had fallen victim to the evil forces of artistic folly. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s his most consistent, interesting and rewarding album to date. For all its diversity, Fire & Ice ultimately demonstrates that Kaskade really hits the mark when he fuses sensuous house tracks with equally sensuous female vocals. This perspective is no doubt informed by my passion for sensuous house tracks with equally sensuous female vocals, but biases aside, this is one release I wholeheartedly recommend checking out.

Fire & Ice is coming out on onelove recordings: 25 October is the iTunes exclusive release date and 11 November is when it arrives on physical CD and all other digital download sites.