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Review: Eric Prydz Gives Progressive House the ‘Opus’ It Never Knew It Needed

8
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: February 5, 2016
Label: Virgin
picture-22979-1414617206Andrew Unterberger // February 1, 2016

It’s been one of the more unusual evolutions in 21st-century dance to see Eric Prydz transform himself from the DJ behind blissfully cheesy chart-toppers (and videos!) like “Call on Me” and “Proper Education,” into someone who, a decade later, can plausibly share bylines with both CHVRCHES and Four Tet in the same calendar year. In the meantime, he’s become one of the most recognizable and respected names in progressive house — one who, unlike many of the genre’s more mainstream-exposed practitioners, actually does try to push the genre forward. When Kieran Hebden put his highly acclaimed spin on Prydz’s “Opus” single last year, it was most notable because the electronic innovator didn’t even have to do that much to the symphonic, slow-cresting original to turn it into a total mindf**k — just a bit of restructuring and a whole lot of pleasure-delaying. It was more a tribute than a reinvention.

Prydz has grown his reputation over a dozen years’ worth of singles and collections, many released under Pryda, Cirez D, and other aliases. But remarkably, it’s taken until 2016 for him to release a proper album under his own name — the double-disc, two-hour, appropriately titled Opus. It was worth the wait: Not only does Opus serve as a defining document in Prydz’s unexpectedly rich and varied career, but it stands as a totemic release of post-crossover, 21st-century progressive house, the elephantine statement fans would’ve hoped Swedish House Mafia eventually capable of if they hadn’t gotten into victory formation so soon after assembling.

Like the Eric Prydz Presents Pryda and Pryda 10 compilations that Prydz has expanded his discography with this decade, there’s some older stuff to be found on Opus — disc-two centerpiece “Every Day” has origins dating back to 2012, while three other tracks date from 2015 or earlier. But unlike those collections, Opus plays distinctly like an album: It doesn’t quite ebb and flow like a Chemical Brothers LP, but the tracks reflect off of one another, shimmering structures of the same architectural design, playing like one coherent DJ set (even though they’re not mixed together like one). Stacking anthem after stunningly melodic anthem with only a few downturns in tempo and intensity, it feels like an effort to define a musical moment in time — and unlike any full-length release from Prydz’s festival-conquering peers, it really does.

It helps that Prydz has the goddamn synthesizers. It’s not the only tool in the Swedish DJ’s instrument bank — the ca-chunking bass to “Collider” and “Last Dragon” gives the songs their backbone — but on the whole, the album succeeds as it does because Prydz detonates his keys like Jimmy Page does his six-string. The synths on Opus punch you in the chest like glitter cannonballs, they shower over you like exploding chandeliers, they scorch your feet from underneath like the Planet Zebes stage of Super Smash Bros. They swell, they excite, they harmonize. They’re alternately reminiscent of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, New Order, Human League, Pet Shop Boys, and Orbital; essentially, all of the Hall of Famers. The couple of tracks with nondescript vocals provide some needed variation to the set, but to hear the human voice on this set feels needlessly distracting — the synths are obviously the real stars here, and they carry the day more than any guest name that isn’t Roland or Moog.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about the two-disc LP without fixating on its largesse: At nearly 125 minutes in length, it’s virtually impossible to listen to Opus in one sitting, and once you get into the depths of side three, the tracks can’t help but bleed together a little. But like Deadmau5’s similarly epic while(1<2) from a couple of years back, even though the set doesn’t need to be as long as it is, you’re kinda glad it is anyway. There’s something to be said for going big at all costs, and when artists actually have the skyscraping compositions to back up their excessive production expenses and run times, it’s strangely gratifying. In any event, Prydz wisely saves the album’s title-track masterpiece — an anthem bombastic, layered, and transcendent enough in its arrangement to merit its classical titling — for the set’s close; not just as a reward for making it that far in the collection, but as a retroactive justification for all that came before it. Anything less than 115 minutes of build-up for “Opus” would have been an insult.

For fans of CHVRCHES and Four Tet, Opus might not ultimately mean that much. The album does purposefully little to overtly blend or cross over genre, and for those who have found the increasing size and ambition of post-boom EDM to be anathema to true progress within the genre, it may seem like the worst of all worlds. But even haters will have to acknowledge Opus as being undeniable for what it is, an iconic collection of 21st-century house music that’s so expansive and far-reaching it outgrows its very genre, unable to be contained within any four-walled enclosure. And by the time Prydz is ready to release his sophomore album sometime around 2026, new fans with no memory of this massive moment in progressive house’s history will be grateful to have a text this authoritative to refer back to.