A melancholy mix with calculated chaos
ASCEND is the latest addition to Nicholas Miller’s, or Illenium’s discography. The record proves versatile and approachable to listeners who aren’t familiar with the electronic dance scene. It balances a line between multiple genres, as ASCEND’s guest-heavy tracklist allows Miller to morph his own style into varying sounds, moods and themes. Not to fret dance lovers, ASCEND still retains the warm, melodic synths, thematic drops and screaming leads that have helped define Miller as a standout producer prior to this release.
Tracks like “Good Things Fall Apart,” with Jon Bellion, use live instrumentation and acoustic guitar to emphasize the intimacy of Bellion’s songwriting and sultry vocals. While on other songs like “Blood,” featuring Foy Vance, Miller’s moody, electronic breakdowns prove that he is a master of calculated chaos. The entirety of ASCEND is like riding a roller coaster with hundreds of dynamic changes and stomach-wrenching drops… in a good way. Its Miller’s most mature release, flexing his independence as a producer to toy with whatever genres he pleases to.
Miller illustrates his versatility as a producer on tracks like “That’s Why,” using hip-hop oriented production, “Blood,” drawing on his experience in dubstep-style electronic and “Every Piece of Me,” refraining from using any drums to support Echos’ ethereal vocals. But ASCEND’s final track, “Lonely,” with Chandler, stood out as the record’s emblematic song. The track is an epic finale and encompasses all of Miller’s redeemable and impressive qualities as a producer. It emphasizes his ability to balance the singer-songwriter appeal with his melodic, energy-infused choruses. Other notable tracks on the record include “Crashing,” with Bahari, a melancholy, nostalgic cut, perfect for a summer night drive and “Good Things Fall Apart,” with Jon Bellion.
ASCEND has solidified its place as Miller’s most successful, genre-bending and intricate record but there were moments that became redundant. The standard verse-chorus, verse-chorus format, while ideal for a dancing scene, created an energy in which every song flowed together but became indistinguishable from one another. The production subtleties that Miller placed into all 17 tracks became less and less noticeable as the record progressed. It made a song like “Every Piece of Me” a welcome break from the record’s thematic but sometimes disjunctive moments.
Miller has compiled all of his knowledge of various sounds, instruments and songwriting styles into this record, and it is impressive. But, he overextends himself. Putting so much content into one project devalued some of ASCEND’s finest moments as the record’s fast pace doesn’t leave much room for reflection or thought. Regardless, Illenium’s latest release is an unforgettable listen that will be enjoyed by both listeners who are on and off the dance floor.