A lot of what makes good musicians good, be it singer/songwriters, composers, or DJs, is how consistent they are. If someone releases a killer, game-changing album once, but fails to impress with every subsequent release, arguments can be made as to whether or not they were ever good in the first place. Above & Beyond, with their latest instalment, We Are All We Need, seems to have the whole consistency thing down pat. With their first new album since 2011 (excluding, of course, their beautiful acoustic album released January of last year), Above & Beyond has further embedded themselves into the bedrock of EDM.
As with many albums in the genre, WAAWN is long, clocking in at just over 71 minutes (but, let’s be real, these albums aren’t made to be listened to from beginning to end every time anyway.) Each of the 16 songs is a sort of cinematic experience—indeed, this is one of the most dramatic albums of any genre of 2015 so far. The second full song, Blue Sky Action, kind of gives you the urge to run in an open field with your arms outstretched, yelling at the clouds. Every track on this album is polished to a ridiculous degree. It’s the sonic equivalent of a J.J. Abrams movie. You can just see the lens flares and vivid colour palettes whenever those synths and pounding bass drums come in. Even to someone who isn’t a fan of the genre, it’s undeniable that every song on this album will make whatever mundane action you’re doing while listening to it seem profoundly important and inspirational. Just yesterday, I was listening to Counting Down the Days while walking out of a Starbucks, and I felt this overwhelming sense of purpose when the beat dropped.
The only shortcoming of this album is perhaps that it’s too perfect. You’re able to outline the progression of each song pretty easily, and, after around 4 of them, you’ll realize that they all follow the sort of rigid formula that’s been so pervasive in EDM in recent years. It starts with a relatively calm verse that gradually builds up to a drop, repeat ad infinitum, you get the point. Don’t get me wrong, I get that this genre is meant to be able to dance to, and by sticking to a formula, you’re able to achieve that far more easily. But given the talent that we’ve seen from these guys in their older albums, like the incredibly influential Group Therapy, it’s kind of a shame to see them try to fit themselves into the really limiting mould of commercial EDM. Another thing I took issue with (although this is probably a nonissue for most people) is the lyricism on the album. EDM isn’t known for its lyricism. We all know this. But, quite honestly, some of these songs bordered on hilarious in terms of lyrical content. Take Sticky Fingers, for example, when Alex Vargas talks about “elegant dinosaur limbs” that “still willfully bruise his skin.” And, of course, theres’ the hook: “Get your sticky fingers out of my head.” Does anyone know what he meant by this? Probably not. It doesn’t really matter, though, it’s a great song. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the incredibly meaningful Little Something, where Justine Suissa spills her heart about having her first child. It kind of boggled my mind that these two songs could exist on the same album, but, hey, that’s Above & Beyond for you.
Would this album have been better if they didn’t structure their songs so similarly? Yes. Could this album have been 8 songs shorter? Yes. Is this still a great album? Yes. Above & Beyond have mastered consistency. They’ve put together a solid collection of dance songs that are sure to be heard at many a club this year, and, truthfully, aren’t even that bad for casual listening. Overall, We Are All We Need is a solid release, one that holds its own in Above & Beyond’s already impressive catalog. I hope to see these guys in the festival circuit in the months to come.