Ascend - Illenium: ALBUM REVIEW
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
The dance genre has just been rejuvenated in the form of Illenium’s third LP, ASCEND.
I am huge fan of the DJ/Producer who puts together a whole album by themselves and features the world’s top vocalists to sing their amazing work. Mark Ronson’s LATE NIGHT FEELINGS was a great example of just that. I’d classify that more in the realm of pop music, and put ASCEND closer to dance. Both are special in their own unique way. But for now, let’s get into what makes Nick Miller’s (Illenium’s birth name) ASCEND so great.
This is a huge thing that no talks about with new albums: the cover. This features a beautiful image of a human woman with phoenix-like wings levitating above the ground, but covered in flames in the process of gaining her wings. That image alone hooked me into the album before even listening to any of its’ content. An album is not just a collection of new, original songs, but rather an hour-long journey to a place that the artist must transfer us to. The cover art MUST attract its audience, and make the listener want to know more about the album, all while representing the journey that the artist has set. That is no easy feat. But ASCEND has captured this philosophy perfectly. Whoever designed the cover art, created a beautiful image that captured the spirit of ASCEND, and took us on a journey of it’s own. It is a remarkable cover.
I love this new trend of preludes to open up albums now. It’s a really great way to grab the listener’s attention and give them something they might not expect when they press play on the top of a track list. ASCEND’s prelude “I Care” begs to be heard with Georgia Ku’s soft but heartbreaking paragraph:
“It’s unavoidable. It just happens. When you grow up, your heart dies.”
We then transition into the opening track (another key selling point of any album), “Hold On”: a tremendously catchy, melodious song that you can’t help but head bob along to, but that also contains beautiful & evocative lyrics about letting go of toxic love. The “drop” in this song (the post-chorus dance break) features such a spacious pad with a lead sound that almost blends into the pad, making for one huge orchestral sound. It is an amazing show of knowledge on the opening track, hooking you in and leaving you wanting more. And boy, do you ever get more …
Miller follows the opening track up with a string of some of the best pop/dance music in the world…
• The emo-inspired “Good Things Fall Apart” with an incredibly dynamic vocal performance by Jon Bellion
• The pleading 80’s-inspired ballad “Crashing” with the stunning innovative work of pop-trio Bahari
• The cry of love’s confusion “Broken Ones” with former Vine-superstar Anna Clendening (who gives the best vocal performance on the album)
• The fusion of “Colbie Caillat-Alternative" and club banger “Sad Songs” with Annika Wells & Said The Sky
One of the most incredible things is that not a single millisecond is wasted on this album. With every song transitioning perfectly into the next, Miller never lets you turn off your ears. Once you think you might get a break, something completely different than the last track comes on and entices you on a whole other level. It’s a truly incredible listening experience.
I’m also amazed by all of the amazing collaborations on this album by artists both up-and-coming and already established. Amazing performances by up-and-comers such as Georgia Ku, Annika Wells, Chandler Leighton & Echos have opened to my eyes to some more amazing musicians. Established artists such as The Chainsmokers, Anna Clendening, Lennon Stella & X Ambassadors prove why they’re just that: established artists with an amazing talent and skill.
I can’t give it an A+ because there are only so many good songs on this album. However, the ones that are good are some of the most creative and innovative expressions of pop and dance to come forward in this new age of show-stopping music that 2019 has had to offer.
ASCEND is definitely worth a very attentive listen because it will blindside you, just like it did to me and many many others …
HIGHLIGHTS: “Hold On”, “Crashing”, “Broken Ones”, “Sad Songs”, “Lonely”
GRADE: 89 (A)