Smoke + Mirrors by Imagine Dragons is one of the most interesting and unique albums of 2015. Their first album, Night Visions, had multiple number one hits (“Radioactive,” “Demons,” and “It’s Time” to name a few) and launched them to instant success and popularity. But the second album is usually where a band plays with their sound a bit, and starts to figure out what direction they want to go in. That’s exactly what Imagine Dragons did with Smoke + Mirrors.
One of the first things that I noticed about the album was that, for the most part, the majority of the songs are very percussion-driven. Almost every song starts out with a singular, unique sounding beat that turns into the driving force behind the song. Other sounds and instruments in the song are slowly merged into the song, just following and building along that starting beat. It’s a unique technique, for sure, and it does its job well. But if spotted from the very beginning, this technique gets less impressive the further into the album that you go. It’s actually a technique that can be found on a lot of their more popular songs from Night Visions. But, as they say, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Despite using somewhat of the same technique, there isn’t a single song that sounds like the other. Every song is intricately crafted from the first note to the last, with the instruments and sounds arranged to play with and off of each other in the most creative way possible. When listening to songs like “Dream” and “Smoke and Mirrors,” it’s easy to just get lost in the way that the instruments flow and merge together perfectly.
While the instruments have a perfect flow, the album over all doesn’t. I felt like I was listening to an album on shuffle. In Smoke + Mirrors, there is very little flow from one song to the next. I remember feeling really confused towards the end of the album when “Hopeless Opus” ended on a sort of Queen-influenced guitar, only to go into a sort of Xylophone-sounding intro to “The Fall.” While it says very little about the actual skill of the band, the lack of proper flow to the album leaves you with the vague feeling of whiplash at times.
But where flow was lacking, it was made up with the excellent vocals from lead singer Dan Reynolds. Reynolds has a very smooth sounding voice, with a somewhat wide range and a knack for keeping it under control. It was easily one of the stand-out features in every song. In “Friction” and “It Comes Back to You,” his voice weaves in and out of the instruments and melody as if it’s always belonged there. At the end of the album, you can’t picture any one song without his vocals in it. It just wouldn’t be complete.
There were parts of the album that dragged, but that’s only a small thing compared to all of the wonderful things about the album. Imagine Dragons have always had a unique and original sound that you couldn’t get anywhere else, and in an era where every pop song sounds like the other, that’s something to be admired. And if Smoke + Mirrors is anything to go by, Imagine Dragons are definitely heading in the right direction.