The “sophomore slump” is a well documented phenomenon in which a second effort fails to live up to the relatively high standards of the first effort. Common examples include schooling, athletics, television, or films and video games. Of course, it also applies to music wherein a hit debut album is followed by a second that can’t manage to live up to the first.
Below are ten examples of EDM albums where the second was better than the first — not necessarily a “sophomore slump,” per se, as these albums more than exceeded their predecessors.
Modestep – London Road
Fans were excited for Modestep’s debut album, Evolution Theory, in 2013 following their breakout hits “Show Me A Sign” and “Sunlight.” But, for as timeless as those singles are, the album as a whole doesn’t really stand up as it did almost a decade ago.
Then, they released London Road, which we named our #7 album of the year. Far more gritty and rock-leaning, the album did away with the more pop sound of the previous album and leaned into collaborations with Teddy Killerz, Culprate, FuntCase, and Trolley Snatcha, as well as metal with Skindred and grime with a huge collab featuring Rude Kid, Big Narstie, Dialect, Discarda, Flowdan, Frisco, and Layz.
As a whole, the project blew us away and we still repeat it to this day.
Odesza – In Bloom
Odesza’s first album was forgettable enough that when A Moment Apart came out, we erroneously called it their second album. It’s not that Summer’s Gone is a bad album. It’s more accurate to say that most fans today likely discovered them from their sophomore album, 2014’s In Return.
Almost every song on the album is a hit, and each is more powerful with those surrounding it. Though, listening to “Say My Name,” “White Lies,” or “It’s Only” on their own still conjure up equal doses of nostalgia and awe.
Daft Punk – Discovery
Daft Punk came out with their debut album, Homework, in 1997, long before most of today’s newer EDM fans were even born. (Let that sink in.) Singles like “Da Funk” and “Around The World” brought attention to the name, but it wasn’t until Discovery four years later that they truly cemented their status as legends.
“One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” in particular, were so popular they made it to radio stations in the US which typically catered to rock, alt, and pop genres. The latter was sampled by Kanye. To say that Homework is better by any stretch of the imagination, though it was their important debut, would be a lie.
Flume – Skin
Our first of three more controversial choices on this list, Skin is better than Flume.
The debut album from the Australian future bass pioneer has an incredible stranglehold on fans with singles like “What You Need,” “Holdin On,” and “Sleepless.” But the album came out in 2012, a couple years before “future bass” was even a thing, and it’s reflected in the more disparate organization and songwriting on the album.
On the other hand, Skin, even leaning as far into pop as it is, is a far more cohesive album. Bringing on plenty of vocalists to tie themes together helped the album land multiple Billboard placements and will still be one of Flume’s strongest projects he’s released.
Baauer – PLANET’S MAD
Baauer’s approach to his albums is fascinating. With Aa, he traveled to Glasgow, Japan and the United Arab Emirates to record and produce the project, giving it an international sound and appeal. With PLANET’S MAD, he took his focus outward, and imagined what a scenario in which our planet was wholly destroyed.
To be honest, this one is truly a matter of taste. Both albums present in radically different sonic motifs, but PLANET’S MAD is by far a more experimental album and one in which you can tell that Baauer really pushed himself sonically and professionally.
ZHU – RINGOS DESERT
When ZHU released GENERATIONWHY in 2016, he hadn’t yet removed the veil on his project. He still performed behind a translucent screen and wore the staple borsalino, but with a veil in front of his face. To that effect, it almost felt like we weren’t getting the true artist when the album was released.
Jump forward two years and ZHU had grown as an artist and as a project. RINGOS DESERT was a brilliant display of progress musically, with tracks like “Burn Babylon,” “Provacateur,” and “Desert Woman” leading the charge.
RL Grime – Nova
Our second controversial choice — Nova from RL Grime. When consulting a friend about this list before publishing, his response was, “You’re smoking crack.” I’ve never tried crack, so I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I can recognize that this choice could be crazy.
Though VOID is an absolutely iconic album for so many reasons, like so many of the past examples, Nova really exemplified a development in his sound and style that resonated with fans and critics.
Zedd – True Colors
Wrapping up our controversial threesome, True Colors by Zedd is just better than Clarity and if you don’t agree then you’re blinded by nostalgia. Opposite to Modestep, Zedd began with a more gritty electrohouse sound and nosedived straight into pop with his second album, but by that time, he had perfected it. He had made the genre his own and incorporated elements of pop into his own unique production and the result was nothing short of breathtaking. His original True Colors festival sets remain some of our favorite to listen to on boring days when we need something to pick us up.
deadmau5 – Random Album Title
Random Album Title is almost a “gimme” in this situation, much like Odesza’s In Bloom. The album followed his debut, Vexillology, released in 2006. The classic deadmau5 sound got him some festival gigs and the like, but Random Album Title made him a household name and brought the iconic red mau5head to his sets for years.
Feed Me – Calamari Tuesday
Eschewing his original moniker of Spor, Feed Me burst onto the scene in the early 2010s with Feed Me’s Big Adventure, a raucous display of electrohouse and bass that shook EDM with a green, impish character at the forefront. “Green Bottle” and “Cloudburn” were on repeat in clubs for months, but as a cohesive project, Calamari Tuesday takes the cake.
Some consider FMBA an EP, despite it having 10 tracks, just by the nature of its release. So this could be the only example where the sophomore slump actually hits (with High Street Creeps six years later), but for the purpose of this article, we’re choosing to view FMBA as an album. And in that case, Calamari Tuesday presents as a wholly more complete and visionary release and example of what Feed Me was at the time.
Photo via aLIVE Coverage for Ultra