I first fell in love with Magnus Høiberg completely unintentionally. Back in 2014, I was a huge fan of Ariana Grande—still am, actually—and listened to her album My Everything on a constant loop. I particularly loved the song “Be My Baby” for its gorgeous marriage of dreamy R&B synths and bell-like beats and wondered endlessly about the producer behind the hypnotic track—credited simply as Cashmere Cat. My fascination with this elusively quirky figure—his Twitter has been an explosion of stars, hearts, and clouds for years—grew steadily with the release of his second Ariana collaboration, 2015’s criminally underheard “Adore”, and his more recent work with Selena Gomez and Tory Lanez (“Trust Nobody”) and Camila Cabello (“Love Incredible”). Though all but one of those songs appear on the producer’s debut album, 9, the collection as a whole unfortunately fails to reach the highs Høiberg has proved himself capable of with his previous experimental work.
The album opens with “Night Night”, a doomsday space orchestra of swooping violin, futuristic static, and Kehlani’s buttery vocals that serves as an intriguing introduction to the sounds of 9. Even with its short length—only 1:45!—and sparse usage of Kehlani, the electronic symphony fully submerges you into the world of Cashmere Cat—a land where synths dance around the stars, distortion shoots across the sky, and space-age glitches burst from black holes.
The second track “Europa Pools” opens with a Cashmere Cat trademark: heavily altered vocals serving as production. Though usually distractingly boring when used alone, here the long stretch of deep warbles expertly builds anticipation for G.O.O.D. Music’s Kacy Hill. Her soulful voice winds through a chill-trap haze of blipping mechanical percussion that all but spells longing before breaking into one of 9’s best drops with a rapid-fire explosion of pan flute. It’s nearly magic.
Sadly, the trippy bliss doesn’t continue to 9’s title track, a collaboration with producer SOPHIE and Danish singer MØ. The song utilizes traditional EDM-lite (think the Chainsmokers) verses and choruses—a tropical xylophone, a fast-paced clap buildup to the chorus, a generic drum machine drop—to trick listeners into believing they’re listening to a typical EDM radio hit. However, after the chorus, when the stupid-yet-undeniably-great second drop typical of EDM-lite “bangers” should come in to propel the song straight to the top of the Hot 100, Cashmere Cat and SOPHIE yank the rug out from under listeners. They shouldn’t have. The plunking, off-key cacophony that ensues absolutely ruins an otherwise-perfectly-fine song and is the first drop that I physically cringed at while listening. The fact that the end of the song delivers a half minute of Cashmere Cat’s orchestral cloud of distortion in perfect form only further drives home the disappointment that is track number three.
Luckily for Cashmere Cat, his collaboration with The Weeknd and Francis and the Lights, “Wild Love”, is a triumph. Though the song’s vocals begin twenty seconds in as Francis Starlight’s piercing falsetto slices through a dreamy R&B fog of distorted vocals and welcomes in heartbeat-monitor electric pulses, the song truly takes flight one minute in as Abel Tesfaye takes the mic. The R&B haze accents his incredible voice perfectly, soaring when he dips into his lower register and grounding his falsetto with slow trap beats. If asked to give one example of The Weeknd’s singing talent, this would be it. Even the ever-present cut-up vocals that mark the end of the track sound lovely here.
Ariana Grande’s third collaboration with Cashmere Cat, “Quit”, partners with “Wild Love” to create the best one-two vocal punch on the album. The producer’s largest problem is attempting to stuff too much—tons of instruments, drops, production tools, distortion patches, and more—into each song; fortunately, here he steps back and allows Ariana’s lower register and mature lyrics to take center stage. “Quit”’s lyrics are particularly notable as they are the first words on the album to actually benefit the song they accompany rather than simply decorate the track. They also serve as an interesting comparison between Grande’s mindset towards unhealthy relationships through the years: in 2014’s “Problem” she was trying to escape a relationship through high notes and saxophones while only three years later she seems to have resigned herself to loving the wrong person with bare-bones production and a strong alto tone. Cashmere Cat himself also shines on the track by, oddly enough, acting like someone else: the dreamy tropical drop sounds as if it was pulled straight from Kygo’s mixing table.
Ty Dolla $ign pulls off a similar camouflaging feat in the album’s sixth track “Infinite Stripes”. With his suddenly semi-respectful lyrics (he refuses to continue hooking up with a taken woman and encourages her to stay with her man) and a chill trap beat to match, the song would’ve been a perfect addition to Bryson Tiller’s T R A P S O U L—always a good sign. By the end of the track, however, Cashmere Cat has resisted his stranger impulses for too long and launches into a reverberating tangle of synths that sound like strums of futuristic space guitars before dissolving into a tropical-house tangent complete with high school marching band drums. It’s one of the weirdest, most defining moments on the album—Cashmere Cat may be crazy, but he’s capable of creating music no one else in the world can.
“Victoria’s Veil” is the only solo track on the album and will be disliked by anyone who does not enjoy Cashmere Cat’s unique style of music. Incorporating video game noises, bells, pounding percussion machines, and even an arena-ready sample of progressive-rock band The Alan Parsons Project, the track is his version of a freestyling power ballad and, as he is a Norwegian DJ, is predictably odd. However, his talent is on full display, especially at the end, making this a must-listen for dedicated fans.
Cashmere Cat’s wilder side is finally reined in on “Trust Nobody”, the first true potential radio hit of his solo work. It is a duet between Selena Gomez and Tory Lanez, the song details the artists’ desires to keep their respective hookups lowkey due to media attention. The minimal, R&B flavored track complements the sexily guarded lyrics well and is further proof that sometimes all Cashmere Cat needs to do to create a fantastic track is take a step back.
“Love Incredible”, the DJ’s collaboration with former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello, doesn’t mark a star-making turn for the aspiring pop star; however, the track is the closest example of a true duet between Cashmere Cat and one of his guest stars seen on 9. Cabello’s voice, which naturally sounds slightly manipulated all the time, fits perfectly with the producer’s spacier side and allows him to make a collaboration that more equally showcases both his dreamy, synth-loving side while still respecting the songwriting and vocal abilities of the singer. This feat was not accomplished on “Wild Love”, in which Cashmere Cat’s production left no room for more than beautiful belting from The Weeknd, or “Trust Nobody”, in which he sacrificed his elaborate production style in favor of using a traditional song structure for Gomez and Lanez. Though “Love Incredible” does lean slightly more towards pleasing Cabello than retaining Cashmere Cat’s artistic side, the twinkling shooting star drop and the patchwork of choppy vocals that complete the song are uniquely his own.
The final song on 9, a collaboration with Jhené Aiko, takes two tries to get it right. Though the lush R&B production complements Aiko’s soothing voice well, the first chorus’ drop is a jarring combination of her high-pitched vocals, dinging flute, and wind chimes (similar to Cashmere Cat’s 2015 track “Ice Rink”) that never quite finds a foothold. By the second drop, however, “Plz Don’t Go” has introduced new sounds like violins and drums and does the same with the chorus by adding swirling synths to the mix. It’s a slick finish to an occasionally bumpy ride, both with the song and the album as a whole.
All in all, 9 is a solid record with many good songs. However, very few of those songs are good because of Cashmere Cat’s production. Too often, he attempts to cram too many “cool” elements into one song and loses sight of the melody in the process—transforming a well-done song into dissonance. Magnus Høiberg is clearly quite a unique talent. But if he doesn’t begin to learn how to balance his alternative side with the craft of creating a song, he’ll never turn that uniqueness into brilliance.