I’ve always been slightly deterred by EDM. The build-and-drop structure of the genre seemed formulaic and repetitive, the lyrics meaningless. I wrote it off as nothing more than a transition phase in the grand scheme of music, filler used by artists as a means for reaching a more interesting and developed sound as Daft Punk did on “Random Access Memories.” But the genre garners billions of online streams, consistently produces Billboard hits and attracts some of the biggest festival crowds in the world. What’s even more significant is that any college kid can download an electronic music production software, post their music to SoundCloud and become more successful than many label-signed artists dream of becoming. I would be foolish to ignore a genre as monumental as EDM. So I listened to Odesza’s new album “A Moment Apart.”

With a similar origin story to those of “chill” EDM contemporaries Flume and Illenium, Odesza started in Seattle as two college students and a laptop. Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight’s first LP “Summer’s Gone” arrived in 2012 and gained popularity on the massively successful streaming site SoundCloud, which allows users to post their own recordings and thus has been an incubator for countless electronic music producers. By 2014, the duo had over 30 million SoundCloud plays, and three years later they have released their third full-length album. In less than two weeks it already has over seven and a half million SoundCloud plays, riding the popularity of singles “Line of Sight” and “Late Night.”

This album both falls short and succeeds in many different aspects. Its structure is questionable: containing a bloated 16 tracks and clocking in at just under an hour, “A Moment Apart” could certainly go without several tracks. “Divide,” for example, is a tired sketch that tries too hard to be as epic, thrilling and emotional as “A Moment Apart”’s other mid-tempo tracks. It also breaks up what would have been a phenomenal transition between two of the album’s best tracks, shoving itself between the Regina Spektor-featuring “Just A Memory” and “Thin Walls And Tall Ceilings.” And the triumphant, Bon Iver-esque finale “Corners Of The Earth” could have been so much more poignant if it were directly preceded by the emotional “La Cuidad” and “Falls” instead of the ineffectively light-hearted “Show Me.” 

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is the use of “Boy,” “Late Night” and “Meridian.” These three tracks are fantastic demonstrations of Odesza finding a musical theme and playing with it. In other words, they would make perfect interludes, dispersed evenly throughout the album as one-to-two-minute emotional breaks or transitions. Instead, each is forced into the first half of the album and lasts a minute too long. None of these remarks are a shot to the quality of the individual songs—they’re great tracks. However, their uses in the album reflect some poor sequencing decisions on the part of Mills and Knight.

Now for the successes—and there are many. The “Another Earth” cosmonaut sample in “Intro” instantly places you in the mindset Odesza want you to be in for the remainder of the album, one of free imagination and commitment to the romantic concepts of space travel and frontiers. The title track that follows is a stunningly cinematic piece that brilliantly blends electronics with strings. It’s reminiscent of the spacey themes of “Random Access Memories” and representative of many of the tracks that follow in “A Moment Apart.” The production choices on “Higher Ground,” like the echo effect on Wild’s voice and the deep bass drum-like beat, turn a somewhat generic pop song into a passionate continuation of the epic themes that kicked off the album. “Line Of Sight” and “Across The Room” transition the album into a happier, more accessible mood, and with modest features from WYNNE, Mansionair and Leon Bridges, they’re less in-your-face than many popular EDM singles. Save the interruptions of “Divide” and “Show Me,” the second half of the album creates an absolutely remarkable emotional arc. “Just A Memory” is the highlight of the entire LP: Similar in sound to “Glory” from Bastille’s latest album, the track masterfully mixes the strikingly organic sounds of strings and Regina Spektor’s raw, honest vocals with Odesza’s signature electronics to create a powerful ballad. “Thin Floors And Tall Ceilings” follows two tracks later as the most cinematic and emotionally tragic song on the album, perhaps inspired by Hans Zimmer’s “Interstellar” soundtrack.

For all the fanfare, Odesza’s new album does not tell a story or deliver any explicit message. This was my problem with EDM music in general, as I struggled to find any meaning behind the repetitive beats and drops. But “A Moment Apart,” with its passionately cinematic character and frequent abandonment of formulaic structure, at least makes something abundantly clear: EDM, possibly more so than any other genre, is tethered to emotion. 

We live in a society that is more aware of emotion than any other society in history. As we seek methods of encapsulating and representing our emotions through the barrier of technology via emojis and hashtags, we have become addicted to feeling these emotions in portable, concentrated bursts of passion. It’s the reason why movie trailers have become more popular than the movies themselves. It’s the reason why EDM has become the first lyric-independent genre to break into the mainstream since jazz, because while the lyrics contextualize emotion, the music itself is what delivers it. And it’s the reason why the EDM festival-goer, swaying upon a field of grass, enclosed by a sea of people yet freer than ever, arms loose at her side, head tilted back, eyes closed in a state of pure feeling, is the face of a generation. 

Odesza’s third full length, “A Moment Apart,” is not groundbreaking or flawless by any stretch, but it represents a step forward as artists continue to shape the relatively new genre of EDM.