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Kygo’s Cloud Nine: A One-Man Reaction Roundtable

Everyone else was busy listening to Chance, so I took up the burden

Today, tropical house's Norwegian prince, Kygo, released his debut album, Cloud Nine, after years of huge singles and inescapable remixes. When a major album drops, we here at MTV News usually gather our staff to work out our thoughts, feelings, and concerns. We did it with Beyoncé, Drake, and Kendrick, and we'll get to Chance next week, just as soon as we're able to stop marveling at Coloring Book long enough to type.

Until then, we have something special: a one-man reaction roundtable. I, David, will debate Turner (also me) on the quality of Cloud Nine. We were both big Kygo fans last year, but lately we haven't been so sure. Will we be able to find something we can agree on?

David: One of the funnier trends I noticed in Kygo's increasing public profile over the past year was press that ran as far away as it could from talking about his music. The narrative around the producer instead went to his hundreds of millions of YouTube plays and his more than 1 billion Spotify listens. It seemed like writers weren’t comfortable, interested, or remotely excited enough to discuss his actual tunes, so they went instead for an easier angle: "THIS DUDE IS FUCKING POPULAR!" And, sure, he is. But there's so much more to say. Kygo and trop house writ large represented a death knell for what people thought of as EDM for the first half of the 2010s — fans rejected the big David Guetta/Calvin Harris type of bangers that could carry across festival grounds in favor of something decidedly more chill. Why didn't anyone want to talk about that?

Turner: Because his music is fucking boring, David. Sorry to be blunt, but Cloud Nine begins with a two-minute introduction that sounds like music in a dentist's office. The tone it creates for this album isn't one of summer nights or relaxation — it's waiting to be told that yes, they found a cavity, and yes, it will be painful as hell to remove. There's a thin line between good Kygo and boring-as-shit Kygo. Cloud Nine shows a fundamental misunderstanding on Kygo’s part about what his fans have enjoyed about his music over these last few years.

David: Ha, I enjoyed "Intro"! It's a nice hat-tip toward this being an actual album instead of just another Kygo mix, which have become pretty rote. His live sets over-rely on tame remixes — his spin on "Sexual Healing" is a prime offender. But I've never found that same lack of energy in Kygo's original music, and that remains true on this album. "Stole the Show" and "Firestone" were great singles, and "Fiction" and "Oasis" prove that he does get what makes a good Kygo song. Those songs are relaxed, but they also retain a sense of propulsion and positive energy.

Turner: Those songs are fine, but even you can't deny that the stretch of "Not Alone," "Serious," and "Stay" is sleep-inducing. It's funny — if you go to SoundCloud and search for "trop house," you'll realize there's something a little off about the intense placidity of Kygo’s music. I think of Felix Jaehn’s "Cheerleader" remix, which is by far the biggest trop house hit, probably because it's fun in a way that Kygo’s snoozy music just isn't. How is it that one of 2016's biggest festival headliners makes music too chill even for an early 2000s Ultra Chill compilation?

David: Hold on, Turner. Let's go back for a second: What do you mean when you say that Kygo doesn’t understand his own appeal?

Turner: Cloud Nine sounds too close to Vanessa Carlton, or Sixpence None the Richer on Xanax. Clearly, at some point in the last couple of years, Kygo got way too invested in the beauty of the piano — where his early hits stayed within the general realm of EDM, too much of this album is straight-up adult contemporary ballads cut with "fun" synths. He should have tried harder to stay in his lane.

David: The prominence of the piano and keyboard on the album gives it a backbone I wasn’t quite expecting. Where a collection of lite bangers could’ve worked, he went down the big-artistic-statement route for his debut, which I do enjoy. Kygo isn’t a hit machine — he isn’t doing songs with Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez — and there’s never been much urgency to his music, so why start now? EDM is constantly shifting and evolving. Maybe it’s fine to give fans a record to catch their breath.

Turner: Whatever, David. I'm going back to Chance's mixtape.