It’s rather fitting that Above & Beyond’s Common Ground and Migos’ Culture II were released on the same day; both albums exemplify the consistent, borderline repetitive greatness of each group.
For those too square to be hip, Above & Beyond are a legendary triumvirate of DJs who helped popularize trance music years before EDM took over the airwaves (or is it streaming-waves nowadays?). In recent years, however, they’ve abandoned their original sound that made them famous — the same sound that made me fall in love with them in the first place (ah, college memories of unremembered nights) — to cash out on the current big-room craze. Whereas their classics are steeped in trance with only superficial spruce-ups courtesy of house drops, lately they’ve been churning out club-bangers too-transparently aimed at topping pop charts, relying heavily on the mainstream’s derivatively monotonous build-drop-build-drop formula.
Common Ground finds, well, common ground between their trance origins and their house success. The album still contains a plethora of bass-rattling drops, but for the most part, it reintroduces to their soundscape trance’s signature persistently soothing melodies and soaringly uplifting vocals. Yes, most of these 13 tracks are basically just worse versions of songs we’ve heard before from them, but I’m totally fine with it when the likes of “My Own Hymn” legitimately remind me of my beloved “Sun and Moon,” and not only because they share singer Richard Bedford.
Unlike The Chainsmokers, another DJ group that revels in the aforementioned mainstream, Above & Beyond don’t just mindlessly hire today’s biggest crooners to glossily transition between drops. Rather, they construct lush compositions that are so gorgeous that they become the focal points of the songs, with the sometimes eye-roll-inducing drops demoted to the background. A part of their consistent beauty stems from A&B working with a trio of reliable vocal collaborators, all of whose voices seem tailor-made for these compositions; or, perhaps the compositions were crafted with Bedford, Justine Suissa, and Zoë Johnston specifically in mind, a far cry from the likes of The Chainsmokers basically playing mad-libs with their guests, seemingly plugging in random celebs without much thought to how they’ll connect.
Speaking of connections, Common Ground also feels like a unified whole, a departure from the mere collection of songs otherwise known as The Chainsmokers’ 2017 album Memories…Do Not Open. A&B clearly contemplated the overall structure of the work; it can’t be a coincidence that the only tracks without a listed feature are the first, 7th — exactly halfway through — and the last. If Above & Beyond continue to merge such artistic instincts with their flare for what’s hip right now, they’re on their way to higher ground.