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Avicii’s ‘TIM’ is an anthemic journey out of EDM that demonstrates his artistic legacy: Exclusive first listen

We had an exclusive first listen to Avicii’s posthumous album ‘Tim’, which DJ Mag’s Harold Heath finds continues his musical journey to a more song-based approach, incorporating acoustic instruments and elements from outside EDM, whilst possessing a clear contradiction between the euphoric mood of much of the music and its darker lyrical content...

The release of Tim Bergling’s posthumous ‘Tim’ album is inevitably bittersweet in the extreme. Whilst we’ve been gifted 12 tracks of pure, peak Avicii, the fact that he’s no longer with us infuses the music with a deep melancholy. His chords and melodies seem more yearning and lyrics like “Can you hear me SOS, help me put my mind at rest”  and “You’ll lose your mind, standing on the battle line” are now heavy and poignant with meaning. 

Avicii passed away in April last year, by which time the music that makes up ‘Tim’ was already largely finished. He also left behind demo recordings, notes, texts and emails about exactly how he planned his album to sound. Consequently, although there were originally no plans to release any further Avicii material, his songwriting collaborators Kristoffer Fogelmark, Albin Nedler, Vincent Pontare and Salem Al Fakir (Vargas & Lagola) have worked on completing the tracks without Tim, attempting to remain as close to his original vision as possible.

‘Tim’ is Avicii’s third album, the follow up to 2015’s huge ‘True Stories’, and its 12 tracks continue his musical journey to a more song-based approach, incorporating acoustic instruments and elements from outside EDM. There’s far less of the sparkling Daft Punk tributes that filled ‘True Stories’ and instead there’s more instrumentation and introspection. 

Album opener ‘Peace Of Mind’ creates a laid back early ‘70s California feel with soft melodies and gently strummed (programmed?) acoustic guitar before developing into its more contemporary sound palette. There’s a general broadening of the musical influences  and flavours throughout the album: ‘Tough Love’ (with Agnes, Vargas and Lagola) treats us to huge Arabesque strings with another of those earworm melodies that Avicii did so well, while ‘Excuse Me Sir’ combines acoustic guitar chords with a rubbery lead synth to produce a song more suited to the radio than the club.

The Imagine Dragons collaborations ‘Heart Upon My Sleeve’ is an epic song of peaks and troughs and one of the stronger melodies on the album, which rushes between acoustic interludes and dramatic string-laden 4/4 sections. It’s not really dance music as such, it’s essentially an ambitious pop song. 

Meanwhile, more familiar grooves and sounds are used on ’Heaven’, featuring Coldplay’s Chris Martin, which has a classic Avicii big piano riff and a tropical-esque arpeggio. ’SOS’ with Aloe Black features those distinctive marimba leads over cheery major chord progressions that have become so much the sound of mainstream EDM. Similarly, ‘Bad Reputation’ with Joe Janiak is another slow-paced restrained-verse-BIG-chorus production with a vocal hook as sticky as superglue.

In an album full of anthemic choruses and emotive chord progressions, ’Hold The Line’ featuring Arizona, with its steadily rising pre-chorus and goose-bump-creating drop stands out, while its lyrics — a heartbreaking recounting of resilience and fragility in the face of adversity — only add to its impact.

Album closer ‘Fades Away’, featuring the soft, enveloping vocals of Swedish singer/songwriter Noonie Bat, spends just over a minute wistfully wandering around the melody before Avicii drops a thundering beat under a rampant orchestral hook, all of which then falls away, leaving just the vocals and reverb before fading to nothing. 

Perhaps the most striking thing about ‘Tim’ is the clear contradiction between the euphoric mood of much of the music and its darker lyrical content. Avicii was often a songwriter who mixed dark and light themes, and there’s no avoiding the pain at the heart of some of these songs. ‘Ain’t A Thing’ contrasts its stirring, uplifting chords with lyrics that speak of the pressures of life as a globally recognised ‘star’. ‘Freak’ is similarly lyrically uncompromising, while ’S.O.S.’ pulls hard at the heartstrings as it details Tim’s substance issues. This incongruity between mood and subject matter almost mirrors the man himself: his friends and family all reported that in his last few months he was in good form. He’d given up that gruelling tour schedule, and alcohol too, and was producing some of the best music of his career, as clearly demonstrated in the songs on this album. 

There are ultimately no answers to be found in ‘Tim’, because ultimately, what happened to Tim is unfathomable. Instead we’re left with his music and our own interpretations of what it might mean. However, listening to this album, we can still reflect on Avicii’s artistic legacy. His influence on dance music and EDM in particular has been huge. His productions broadened the lagging boshing ‘festival EDM’ sound, as he infused his globalist dance music with hints of country, world music and pop. And whilst it’s a small ray of light amidst a tragedy, Avicii’s family have now launched the Tim Bergling Foundation to raise money and awareness of mental health and suicide prevention, and the net profits from ‘Tim’ will go to the foundation.

It is perhaps difficult for older house heads to understand, but to his fans, Avicii was more than just a producer. To them he was a hero, a star, a purveyor of emotive, passion-filled anthems which spoke directly to them. Avicii’s music — all those huge fizzy riffs, the major chord progressions, the restrained-verse-big-chorus aesthetic — it was all precision engineered to evoke an emotional response in the listener. For countless young clubbers across the world, Avicii’s music soundtracked their first festivals, their first summer holidays together, the first time they fell in love; and their loss is raw. 

It almost sounds trite, but for broken-hearted Avicii fans the world over there is at least one truth, and that is that ’Tim’ will no doubt provide the soundtrack to countless more special moments in their lives; at least Avicii’s music will live on.

Want more? Check out our tribute to Avicii, remembering how the late star shaped EDM.

Harold Heath is a freelance journalist, you can follow him on Twitter here.