Lost Potential

I’ve had a lot of time to sit down and listen to music recently. Music keeps my work days flowing and with a pace that makes it easy to write to. My taste in music hasn’t changed much over the years, I still listen to a lot of EDM and techno. But with my recent transition away from Google Play Music to Youtube Music, a botched transition to say the least, has given me access to a pretty intuitive endless radio stream based on my tastes and artists I already like and have listened to. 

And while that means exposing me to plenty of new music like that of Porter Robinson and more Zedd than I like admitting it’s also given me access to a discography of an artist that I thought I knew but apparently I had much more to learn. 

I still remember the day I found out Avicii died. I was driving with some coworkers to a work function in another city none of us wanted to go to. We blasted Wake Me Up while driving too fast down the highway and lamented the loss of a human being while badly dancing in a car too small for all of us to fit in on a journey none of us asked to be part of. It didn’t matter to us why Avicii died; just that he was gone. And while many spent a lot of time discussing his mental health and the factors that led up to such a bright and young shining star dying; I mostly just processed the loss as I would have the death of any celebrity: sad for the loss of human life but that this was clearly more complicated beyond my comprehension with factors that would perpetually remain to be seen and with demons that were not privy to anyone; yet alone a nameless mass of fans. That’s the nature of DJs, really. Many obscure their faces, few use their real names. There is the DJ and the man. Madeon may be Hugo but they are not the same person. There’s a perpetual wall built between DJs and their fans built physically by their equipment and metaphorically by their oftentimes larger than life personas that make them almost more like characters in a pantheon rather than men and women like the rest of us. 

His death wasn’t as personal to me as Anthony Bourdain, who I looked up to and admired in a way that felt so intimate so his death resulted in friends checking in on me in the same they had after my mother died. I felt like I knew Tony, I felt like I lost a friend with Tony. That’s just who Anthony Bourdain was. He wasn’t an edifice or a persona, he was authentic; painfully so. He was always him and we were able to, as fans, believe that he was right there with us; sharing a meal, telling an off-color joke, being vulnerable to discuss his mental health or addictions and of course, making us smile and more importantly, think. 

Avicii wasn’t a close friend or mentor; he was a DJ. A DJ I liked, sure. A DJ I wouldn’t pass over if I got one of his songs on an endless shuffle mix. Hell, I may even pay to see him in concert if given the opportunity.  And one I didn’t think I’d miss so much. 

The endless mix of songs that’s given rhythm and life to my blended together days has given me a lot of Avicii; a DJ I mentioned to Youtube’s algorithm that I liked because of a few songs I had saved on my old Google Play Music Player and in a stroke of genius and the algorithm for once getting something right, almost every song I’ve gotten from the DJ has been a new and unexpected hit that I had never heard before. I thought that I was a fan by knowing literally 3 or 4 songs but there are so many tracks I just hadn’t heard before and each one just showed more and more skill and diversity that I just didn’t expect from the young DJ. I didn’t think Trouble would hit so hard or that Dear Boy would nearly bring me to tears. I didn’t think that Broken Arrows or Heaven would be so easy to dance to. I thought I knew Avicii but I was so so wrong. I’m glad now, for once, to have been corrected. 

But a theme emerged as I continued to listen deeper into his discography, a feeling of emptiness and loss. I suddenly found myself mourning all over again: not just for the young life snuffed out too soon but also for the loss of talent that he took with him to his eternal rest. 

It’s a complicated relationship that fans have with creators that have passed on. Many of us lament the time taken from us as fans as if we are owed creation. Many of us wish for just one more book, just one more song, just one more when really; that’s usually far from what we want. We selfishly wish for more time that death has so cruelly taken from us as avid fans and dedicated listeners while willfully shunning the fact that more time does not always lead to genius. We had many years with Harper Lee, only to be bitterly disappointed by the treasure that time can bring. But with Avicii as I continue to listen to each song he crafted, I can’t help but feel that familiar pang in my chest of “what if”.

What if he was given more time? What if he had one more set? One more studio album. One more single. What would he be making now? What would his style be? Would he dabble in tropical house again? Would he partner with DJs that I also admire? Whose vocals would he use next? What would his sound be like as he gained skill and matured? What songs that are out now or ones out before would he sample or experiment with? 

What would Avicii be doing now?

 I lament the loss of potential now, with Avicii’s death. And while of course, I mourn Tim as a person, I just wonder what we could have now if he was still with us. 

Madeon Takes Us to Church

I have followed Madeon’s music since I saw him open for Lady Gaga years ago. As soon as I heard his music, I fell in love. His bass drops made my heart race, his transitions were fantastic and each song of his felt like a frantic video game’s mad dash to the end. His early music all felt like beautiful game background music and I rode every single high and low for years. His music powered me through college and through some of the darkest days in my home waiting for my life to start. Madeon is a talented DJ, always has been since he was too young to drink in the clubs he kept playing. 

I was thrilled when Madeon decided that he was going to do a full debut album. When Adventure came out, nearly all of the tracks felt like something new from the DJ I came to love. It all felt very pop, which was fine. I loved the featured artists that joined Madeon’s beats during Adventure and found myself nearly in love with every song on the album from the oppressive hype that was Imperium to the slow ballad that was La Lune

Adventure was exactly the album I needed when it hit me at all of 24 and moody and filled with ennui. I had just ended a long-term relationship, I was on my own and nothing felt like it used to. But Adventure wasn’t popular with everyone as it was probably one of the most pop ventures Madeon had ever done. If you came into Hugo’s work with him sampling Alphabeats or even The Killers then Adventure seems rather on point but if you came into Hugo’s work with Ellie Goulding or deadmau5 then yeah, Adventure is pop trash and you’re a dummy for liking it, I assume is what they think. In hindsight, I’m hot and cold on it. La Lune and Only Way Out still mean a great deal to me and Ok  and Beings can still get me dancing and listening with a few years behind it, Imperium seems like the kind of song that Raihan from Pokemon: Sword/Shield works out to. 

But we are spending a lot of time talking about an album that is a few years old and that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to talk about Good Faith. When Madeon released a single in 2018, I was happy. I had missed Hugo’s music. That single was All My Friends and in video theme and tone, this didn’t feel like a Madeon song. I was confused and frankly concerned that perhaps Porter Robinson was punking all of us. The video featured a ton of hand geometry and an interesting enough beat to it that I was curious but not sold. It was fine but it wasn’t Hugo.

All I had to do was wait. 

Dream Dream Dream was where I was sold before the album was even an album. The mood, the lyrics…all of it just spoke to me. I have also felt the weight of my dreams and indeed it does move me forward. I was still a little weirded out with the hand geometry in the videos but there was something about this song that reminded me of something that I had felt in the back of my mind and had noticed in the two songs that started up this album was suddenly clear. 


My thoughts about Good Faith being Madeon’s attempt to take us to church were confirmed when the album got its name and when I heard No Fear No More. It wasn’t just the piano pieces of the literal damn choir or the literal damn children’s choir but it was more the themes. The idea of being fearless, of being joyful, of having that internal strength that tells you everything will be fine (yes, I made a pun about my other favorite song on the album) are all themes in Southern gospel. Black people have been telling themselves to have fear no more since slavery was a thing and encouraging their children and loved ones that through faith and perseverance that everything will be okay. 

Miracle more aggressively takes us to church with more pianos, more choirs and even more overt allusions that supernatural things will happen and while it’s a good song, I’ll trade it for Be Fine almost any day; mostly because the front half of Miracle features what I can only describe as Hugo’s pillow talk before it turns into a great song in the second half.

I want to close with the song that shocked me and the one that made me really feel a deep connection with the album: Heavy with Hoping. Without getting too personal, 2018 ended with me cutting several ties with people that meant the world to me but I had to remove from my life for personal reasons. I was going through a breakup so lines like: 

If I let you go

We end in tragedy

How would you know

How to get back to me?

I felt it in my bones. And the heavy vocals, minimal beats until the end (which is actually where the song loses me) that fades into heavy distortion as grief and pain often does distort voices and feelings just really spoke to me. But it was bluesy in a way that some gospel songs are as a way to remind Southern black of the pain and hardship we have endured and to show us that indeed, that pain is not invalidated by time. 

In Good Faith, Hugo takes us to church. He shows his wide influences and while honestly, I didn’t like all of the songs on the album, the ones I adored are ones that will remain close to my heart for the remainder of my days. A few articles claimed Good Faith was Hugo’s most pop-influenced album but to me that sells the damn thing short and erases that his influences are much wider than just pop or video game loading screen music. I maintain that Madeon is one of the most talented DJs alive and I’m proud to be a devotee of his work and indeed the album had me clapping along and raising my hands to the Lord above chanting “No fear no more.”