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Music Reviews

MPAA Rating
Album
True
Genre
EDM/Electronica/Techno, Pop
Performance
Peaked at No. 4.
Record Label
Island
RELEASED
July 2, 2013
Reviewer
Adam R. Holz
Avicii
"Wake Me Up"

For Buddhists, Avīci is not thought of as a place you want to end up: It is the deepest of eight levels of hellish purgatory in the religion's teaching, a place reserved for those who murder their parents or religious leaders, a place of perpetual, eternal hopelessness bereft of the possibility of escape.

With a description like that, you'd think it might be a name claimed by a black metal band. Instead, it's the basis of the stage name used by disarmingly cheery 23-year-old Swedish DJ Tim Berg. In a 2012 interview with ocweekly.com, he said of his professional handle, "In Buddhism it means the lowest level of hell. I was honestly just looking for a MySpace name and had remembered the word Avicii from a friend. It just sounded cool."

And cool sounds—completely unlike those one might expect to hear in the depths of hell—are what Avicii is all about. From that same interview: "I always wanted to make music or find an outlet for creativity somewhere. I had dabbled with guitars and piano but was never particularly good at it." But when a friend introduced him to a computer program that "allowed me to draw melodies like a piano," he said, "I was hooked."

In just a handful of years, Avicii went from being an anonymous teen pumping his beats hopefully into cyberspace to becoming one of the most influential electronic maestros in Europe—and now in the United States—as the EDM scene has fully fused with the musical mainstream. At 2012's Ultra Music Festival in Miami, for example, he performed with Madonna after remixing her song "Girl Gone Wild."

As is often the case with prominent electronic music practitioners, Avicii is more likely to be found behind a computer screen or turntable than a mic. His latest hit (co-written by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger) enlists the vocal talents of American soul singer Aloe Blacc.

The song starts with a upbeat acoustic guitar and Blacc's voice. It's a vibe not far removed from something you might expect from Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers—until, that is, the guitar's rhythms get harmonically smeared in a way that instantly says EDM, not FR (what folk rock would dub itself if it wasn't quite so old school). "Feeling my way through the darkness," Blacc emotes, "Guided by a beating heart/I can't tell where the journey will end/But I know where to start."

The next verse finds the singer stubbornly rebutting charges from his elders that he's too earnest and idealistic about pursuing his dreams: "They tell me I'm too young to understand/They say I'm caught up in a dream/Well, life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes/Well, that's fine by me/Hope I get the chance to travel the world/But I don't have any plans/Wish that I could stay forever this young/Life's a game made for everyone/And love is the prize."

So it seems that it's the dreamers vs. the realists here, with the dreamers winning the war. There's a bit of affirmation that the journey is just as important as the destination, and that each person has to find his or her own way. But whether someone is truly digging for who they are or futilely running around in circles is wide open to interpretation.

As is the song's video, which ponders these themes in a rather unexpected way. A beautiful young woman and her tween sister are mysteriously ostracized by the grim townsfolk where they live, it would seem. But we're not quite sure if the townspeople are jealous of the pair's beauty or suspicious of them due to the strange, double-triangle marks on their shoulders (which is, it turns out, Avicii's logo).

Those questions are never answered, because the older girl discovers others like herself—similarly beautiful and marked with the triangles too—who invite her to … an Avicii concert. Soon she returns to retrieve her sister, breathlessly telling the girl to pack her bags because they've finally found a place they can call home.

Whether or not a never-ending Avicii concert is the best place for a young girl, however, is something the video never deals with.

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