EDM producer Christopher Comstock, a.k.a. Marshmello, takes a lot of crap for his sugary, hyperactive producing style, but the guy does have his moments. His specialty is bringing tinges of euphoria to songs that are otherwise powerful expressions of deeply felt sorrow, and when he’s able to stick to that formula, he’s actually quite effective.
This song, his biggest hit to date, is a perfect example of that emotional balancing act. It’s a collaboration with former Indie Rock band Bastille, who are known for their richly emotional songs such as “Pompeii”, and it would actually be quite depressing if not for the production here. Bastille were already very much an Electropop band, so working with an EDM producer doesn’t really depart from their usual sound all that much, but Marshmello’s distinctive production style manages to make this song feel very different from Bastille’s work under their own banner.
This same basic exchange holds true for all of Marshmello’s more respectable hits. His breakthrough hit, the striking “Wolves”, contrasts Selena Gomez’s haunting descriptions of romantic obsession in the foreground with his fizzing, tingling beats as a backdrop to create one of the most intoxicating hits of Gomez’s career, and he adds the necessary overtones of hope and optimism to Halsey’s “Be Kind” and Demi Lovato’s “Okay Not To Be Okay”.
The problem with Marshmello’s work, and the thing that has brought him the ill repute that he has received, if that if you put him on his own on an instrumental track, or with a collaborator who is incapable of making that intense dramatic contrast, his sugar-high production style just sounds frivolous and saccharine. And I’m sad to say that scenario has happened more than a few times over the course of his career: a lot of his singles really do come across as bland and inane, and his albums, which mostly consist of him laying down instrumentals with no collaborators at all, are of virtually no interest whatsoever.
But the guy does have a certain effectiveness when he stays in the appropriate paradigm, and the people who dismiss him altogether aren’t being fair to him. It reminds me of not entirely undeserved but greatly exaggerated flack that the last EDM superstars in this field, the Chainsmokers, tended to receive, and say what you will about Comstock, at least he’s been wise enough never to attempt to do his own singing.