The Chainsmokers’ music simply checks pop’s boxes
Christian Bunker | Tuesday, November 8, 2016
It’s been four years since American pop duo The Chainsmokers formed, and they are still yet to release an album. This kind of wait is by no means unprecedented — 16 years separated the Avalanches’ first and second album — nor would it be unforgivable if their work up to this point showed any promise. At this point, however, it doesn’t seem like the group plans to ever come out with an album. Instead, they will continue to churn out hit singles until they retire and an equally vapid act rises to prominence. Although the duo’s latest release is technically an EP, each of its five tracks were also released as singles. It seems ridiculous to call it anything else, so a collection of singles is what I will evaluate it as.
The collection opens with “Setting Fires,” the newest release and by far the least well known of these five. The song’s uptempo chorus, dance grooves and house music-inspired outro meet all requirements for a typical Chainsmokers hit, and the first placement of this track seems designed to turn “Setting Fires” into their next big song. However, with a fan base raised on the skip button, I’m skeptical about this strategy, especially since the back end of the EP contains the band’s biggest hits. Whether it catches on or not, however, rest assured that this song easily satisfies the two golden rules of pop music, being both incredibly derivative and endlessly repetitive.
Moving on to “All We Know,” I was disappointed but not surprised to find a simple riff opening the song, as if “Starving,” “Love Yourself” and “Treat You Better” had not yet provided recent pop with enough amateur guitar playing. Further in, lyrics like “We’re falling apart, still we hold together” sound a little inauthentic from two guys who make Donald Trump’s life look like one of hardship (they make Trump look humble, too — check out their interviews). Musically, the build-up/drop near the 1:15 and 2:40 marks are EDM 101 and lie firmly within the capabilities of any high schooler with GarageBand.
“Closer” opens with a great example of classical conditioning. Whenever I hear those first piano notes at work, my body instantly knows that the next four minutes are going to be excruciating. Before this song became big, I firmly believed that sappy songs about the transience of life were the absolute worst mainstream music had to offer. This remains a compelling thesis — the likes of Trace Adkin’s “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Five for Fighting’s “100 Years” and Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink” are good evidence of that — but “Closer” made me realize that songs that flatly deny the transience of life are even worse. “We ain’t ever getting older,” the song ridiculously declares. I don’t know about that, but the Chainsmokers’ music certainly isn’t maturing.
By the time “Inside Out” arrives, we’re on our fourth song and fourth feature. The purpose of features is to diversify the music by bringing in another artist to add a different dimension to the song. When all five songs feature a very similar sounding female vocalist, it kind of defeats the point. This reflects the main problem with “Inside Out,” which is that it sounds like every other Chainsmokers song.
I will admit that “Don’t Let Me Down” is the one decent song of these five. The intro is strong and the tune is catchy, but the fact that the song’s title is repeated no less than 35 times reveals that this song is nothing more than catchy. As the track concludes, I’m tempted to complain that all these guys could muster for what is only their second EP is eighteen minutes of already-released music. However, the alternative to this is for there to be more Chainsmokers music, which would be far worse.
If you like: Major Lazer, Avicii, DJ Snake