Eric Prydz – Opus: Album Review

Opus_Eric_Prydz_cover_artwork

There are a few good reasons why I waited to review Eric Prydz‘s debut album nearly 2 weeks after it was released.  For starters, physical copies of this 2-disc set were not available in Canada until February 19, 2016.  Secondly, although I am certainly familiar with all of the previously released singles included here, I did not want to spoil the experience of sitting down and hearing the album in its entirety with a fresh set of ears.  Third, it’s a lot of music and the best part of almost any Eric Prydz production is their uncanny ability to grow on you, stick in your head and stay there to the point that you just might find yourself humming the melody or bassline in the elevator, on the subway or pretty much anywhere you can think of.

I’m very glad I waited.  Prydz is the undisputed master of progressive house, making huge waves since his much praised/ballyhooed 2004 release of “Call On Me” which did quite well commercially and introduced him to the masses worldwide.  Since then, although he has had several crossover hits including “Proper Education” and “Pjanoo”, Prydz has focused on remaining true to himself and developing his Pryda production label and alias together with his harder, more techno-influenced work as Cirez D on his Mouseville imprint.  In doing so, he has satiated the underground collective and managed to maintain credibility through the sheer, undisputed quality of his releases.  In 2015, he rewarded his fans with an unheard of 22 tracks over 3 EPs under his Pryda guise and now he has finally given us a 19-track strong debut album under his given name, which he estimates he has been writing in his head for over 10 years.  That’s 41 tunes over 4 releases, damn near all of them brilliant and with enough quality that you could literally pick any one of them out of a hat and drop them in a DJ set with a guarantee of the dancefloor going insane to his throbbing, melodic, familiar yet intensely original sound.  With over 2 hours of music on this set, some listeners may see it as a bit daunting at first, but the end result is a near-perfect representation of the Eric Prydz sound with nods to his Pryda and Cirez D monikers and as it was mastered at the legendary Exchange in England, the sonic quality is truly second to none.

Disc 1 opens with a pair of arpeggiator-heavy numbers in the form of “Liam” and “Black Dyce”.  While I find these to be far from the best material included here, they do serve as a fine introduction to his musical style and formula.  “Collider” comes next with some rock-influenced drums and his signature bass sounds driving the track.

“Last Dragon” has quickly become my favourite track off the first disc as it raises the energy level and evokes the best of Prydz’s Pryda alias complete with beautiful synth patterns, warm bass and some haunting choir samples which make this very accessible to DJs looking for a track that will function beautifully as a set opener. closer or peaktime belter.  “Moody Mondays”, the first proper vocal cut of the disc, follows with a featured appearance from The Cut(Neil Ormandy) who adds a very David Bowie-esque sound to this album highlight.  “Floj” is up next, another amazing tune that could be right at home under a Pryda release, followed by “Trubble” which showcases a heavier, bass-driven style that wouldn’t be amiss on a Cirez D EP.  Disc 1 is paced rather well and although tracks like “Som Sas”, “Klepht” and “Eclipse” don’t stand out quite as well as some of the others, to hear these 10 tunes together for the first time is immensely satisfying; keeping in mind these are ideas that have been re-worked and tweaked over a near 10-year period.  Prydz is truly a synth master and although some of his sounds do sound like they have been recycled from some of his other productions, all have been tweaked to sound fresh and exciting in the forms they appear in here.

Disc 2 opens with “Sunset at Cafe Mambo”, a neither ambient nor down-tempo track but rather a synth and arpeggio led piece that simply omits Prydz’s signature kick drum/snare combo and serves as a tribute to one of his favourite places to DJ.  Up next is “Breathe” featuring a guest vocal from Pendulum/Knife Party member Rob Swire.  This one bucks the trend of progressive house seen throughout the album and instead is a slightly more downtempo and breakbeat affair that doesn’t stand out as one of the best cuts from the set, but nevertheless provides a bit of a break from the 4/4 beats of Disc 1 and provides some breathing room for the listener before Prydz returns to form with “Generate”.  This one should be familiar to fans as it considerably predated the release of the album and like its sister track “Liberate”, features vocals from Tom Cane.   I too was surprised that these tracks feature a male vocalist as upon first listen, one would almost certainly think these were done by a female.  Nevertheless, these two cuts perfectly sum up the evolution of the Eric Prydz sound:  fantastic progressive house with strong synth leads and vocal hooks that carry the tracks through their breakdowns and subsequent drops.

“Oddity” follows and then we are treated to a re-scoring of a track previously released as a Pryda production, “Mija”.  “Every Day” is another straight-up 4/4 banger which features a vocal interpolation of Mood II Swing’s 2002 release “Everyday” performed by Hal Ritson.  “The Matrix” follows before the 2-disc set reaches its conclusion in the form of the title track “Opus”.

Clocking in at over 9 minutes, “Opus” takes a simple melodic synth progression and sees it build in tempo, complexity and intensity before finally kicking into a 4/4 anthem around the 5-minute mark and peaking before coming right back down to where it started.  It’s definitely one of the best cuts included here and is deserving of not only its name, but status as the title track of the album.  A worthy way to close out this set, it may not be the easiest tune to mix into a DJ set, but it does serve as a signature stamp that Prydz can put on this debut disc and definitely serves its purpose here.

Disc 1 definitely has a less commercial and more underground feel to the structure and sounds of the tracks featured there while Disc 2 re-introduces some of the tunes that have proven to be enormously successful for Prydz and have found their way into the record boxes of countless big-room players around the world.  This provides a nice balance between the two discs and ultimately allows for the material to at once appeal to both the more discerning underground listener and those who like their prog coupled with strong, yet non-alienating vocal hooks.

Production-wise, this is an album that stands out from its more EDM-centred competition and that is where its beauty and value comes shining through.  This is melodic, progressive house at its absolute best; pick nearly any cut from this collection and unleash it on a packed dancefloor and the audience should be all smiles.  Sonically, this album beats the pants off of nearly anything else out there right now and that can be attributed to the time and effort Prydz has clearly spent mastering his production tools and his uncanny knack for creating very simple melodic riffs that ebb and flow, grow and regress and evolve throughout each tracks length and arrangement.  This album comes about as close to perfect as one could hope for, minus a few moments that don’t quite hit the mark, but overall there aren’t many artists out there where damn near every tune they make is quality, instantly playable and instantly recognizable as the work of a true musical genius regardless of genre.  We hope for more great things to come out of Eric Prydz’s studio and mind and based on his track record, we certainly should not be disappointed.

Rating:  ****/5

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