It always really sucks to hear about someone passing away long before it made any sense. This past Friday, Avicii died at the age of 28. While I may not have known him at all, his passing stuck with me as both a complete shock and a retrospect over his work. I feel like I’ve never really appreciated what he’s done. So for today, I’m going to temporarily break my rules and look back on the Avicii work that I’m familiar with and how important it was then and now.
With the album, True, Avicii experimented with the sub-genre known as folktronica, an EDM/house blend of folk instrumentation and lyrics. When I first heard the first single, “Wake Me Up,” I dismissed the song, and the genre, almost immediately. I considered it to be a bastardization of my beloved folk and that it was only using folk elements instead of paying any respect for it. That thought process, as I’ve become more open in my music tastes, was completely out of line. One of the reasons why folk has stayed strong for the longest time was its ability to change and transform to fit society’s ever-changing tastes and perspectives. Bob Dylan spoke for the people of his time, not for the originators of American folk. Folk styles have become adapted to rock, electronic music, pop, and a thousand other genres.
On top of integrating folk into modern society, it is clear that Avicii really did earnestly love folk and it was as clear to me as anything in “Hey Brother“. To start, the song is sung by Dan Tyminski, a well-regarded bluegrass singer who I mostly knew from being one of the voices of the Soggy Bottom Boys from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? That by itself was enough to mitigate a lot of skepticism, but outside of his inclusion, the whole experience just feels like a homage to the sound and atmosphere of good old folk. The guitar strumming, the lyrics covering sibling bonds, and of course Tyminski’s twang hitting all the right beats.
The non-folk parts are good too. The drop has this strong brass assembly that gets the right pump in your system. What does that mean? I don’t know.
The point I’m trying to make is that I feel that Avicii has made his mark in the music industry and I hope his music and influences continue on.
Did he do anything outside of Folktronica?
Definitely, but how can I recommend any song that isn’t specifically “LE7ELS?” I think it’s the first song that made me okay with the idea of listening to mostly instrumental music. That may be a small change of perspective, but it’s not too different to a mainstream audience learning about folk.