The Chainsmokers first earned its claim to fame in 2014 with the notorious hit single “#SELFIE.” Since the track’s viral release, the EDM duo has begun to produce a more radio-friendly sound, releasing a stream of popular summer anthems over the past year. The Chainsmokers’ first studio album, “Memories … Do Not Open,” was released April 7, giving the duo a chance to continue to develop its upbeat pop sound while exploring more complex musical terrain. Members Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall exhibit newfound sophistication and maturity on certain tracks, projecting a clear artistic vision throughout the album.
The first track, “The One,” opens the album with rich and ethereal female harmonies before launching into Taggart’s gentle vocals. The intimate sound foreshadows a similar style on several following tracks, focusing on vocals and instrumentals rather than electronic drops. Even though the song drags toward the middle, its opening notes establish a promising tone for the rest of the album.
The next song, “Break Up Every Night,” features vocals from The Chainsmokers, which is unique because the duo typically relies on collaborations with other artists. Although this focus on the artists creates a more authentic feel, the track possesses a young, poppy sound that does not quite match the style of the first song.
“Bloodstream,” the album’s third track, dials back the energy and slows down the tempo. Compared to the more lyrically formulaic previous track, “Bloodstream” is more honest and emotionally charged, telling the story of a singer who becomes disillusioned with fame. Although the track might not fit The Chainsmokers’ usual feel-good vibe, it breathes a much-needed sense of vulnerability into the album. It proves that the duo considers “Memories…Do Not Open” an opportunity to display its growth from its most popular single, “Closer,” released in July 2016.
The fourth track, “Don’t Say,” is the first collaboration with another artist on the album. Emily Warren is an American songwriter who has written for The Chainsmokers in the past, as well as for a range of other successful artists such as Shawn Mendes and Melanie Martinez. Despite her impressive experience in the industry, Warren’s airy vocals sound rather bland and ordinary, imitative of mechanical pop. Without any exciting musical elements to enhance Warren’s vocal force, “Don’t Say” lacks an edge and fails to stand out.
With “Something Just Like This,” featuring Coldplay, fans are re-introduced to the single first released in February. Although this collaboration is unexpected considering Coldplay’s classic rock style, it mirrors the recent tendency of traditionally acoustic artists, like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, to venture into the pop-electronic arena. If anything, the track is further evidence of the changing climate of pop music and shifting boundaries between genres. Surprisingly, the tone of lead singer Chris Martin’s voice fits well with the genre, and the track successfully merges two unexpected musical groups into a cohesive unit.
“My Type” opens with simple chord progressions on the piano, creating another track with an intimate acoustic intro. The pre-chorus, however, leads to an electronic build-up that culminates in a heavy drop in true Chainsmokers style. Similarly, “It Won’t Kill Ya” begins with simple chords and a singular isolated voice. Reminiscent of intense dubstep, the drop on the track feels disconnected from the overall lightness of the verses. “Wake Up Alone” continues with this dynamic, developing sharp contrasts between its acoustic and electronic sounds. While these songs illustrate the duo’s experimentation with a new electronic sound , their beating style clashes with some of the track’s softer vocals.
“Memories…Do Not Open” also includes hit song “Paris,” another single released at the beginning of the year as a preview of the full-length album. The overwhelming success of the song speaks for itself. Immediately picked up by mainstream radio, the track accumulated over 60 million views on YouTube and reached the top of the charts. The positive reception of “Paris” demonstrates the fan’s desire for songs highlighting the duo’s talents, rather than the added vocals of other artists. The track’s soft synths, echoing vocals and catchy hook establish it as a trademark Chainsmokers hit, but its introspective lyrics make it more memorable than most, as the singers repeat, “We were staying in Paris/To get away from your parents/You look so proud/Standing there with a frown and a cigarette/Posting pictures of yourself on the internet.”
“Honest” and “Young” each contain remarkable elements that make them immediately stand out. “Honest” begins as a spoken track, with a voice offering a sage monologue about the complexities of the human heart. As the music builds up in the background, Taggart and Pall bring in bright, rich harmonies. In “Young,” the root instrumentals on the intro feature guitar rather than piano, offering a new sound that distinguishes the track from the rest of the album.
The album’s last song, “Last Day Alive,” offers another unexpected collaboration, this time with country group Florida Georgia Line. Although the southern band is not known for venturing outside the conventions of country music, its partnership with an electronic duo still served as a surprise. Despite the bold collaboration, The Chainsmokers stick to a style of heavy electronic backing and dull vocals. It is a disappointing execution of a potentially captivating fusion of genres.
“Memories…Do Not Open” is a mix of tracks. Some of the songs might go unnoticed, while others will ride their wave to the top of the charts. Despite this, Taggart and Pall of The Chainsmokers are gradually solidifying their distinctive style as musicians and producers with an increased emphasis on their own vocal talents and mixing skills. With the exception of “Something Just Like This,” which creates an exciting blend of genres, it appears that the most successful tracks on the album are those featuring only the duo. Perhaps The Chainsmokers’ key to success is harnessing its undeniable value as a duo without the dissonant influence of other artists.