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Evolve

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Imagine Dragons give away the plot with the very title of Evolve, the 2017 sequel to 2015's sophomore set, Smoke + Mirrors. Not content to stay in one emotional or musical spot, Imagine Dragons consciously move forward on Evolve, pushing themselves into a positive place, a transition that mirrors lead singer Dan Reynolds working through a heavy depression. Some of that darkness seeped into Smoke + Mirrors, but it's not heard here. Opening with "I Don't Know Why," a glitzy dance-rock song that nods at a disco past but exists in an EDM present, the record often rides along to a neon pulse. It's not that Imagine Dragons have abandoned the heavy-footed stomp they patented on "Radioactive," but they've threaded in busy, percolating electronic beats and give plenty of space to gilded keyboards. When the tempo is quick, the results are festival-friendly electro-rockers. When the tempo is slow, the results feel like a hybrid of Coldplay and Mr. Mister -- power rock ballads spiked with laser drums. As throwback as that sensibility may be, the band strives to be thoroughly modern, emphasizing rhythms and gargantuan hooks to tightly constructed compositions. Whenever the group tries a new sound -- pumping up "Mouth of the River" with fuzz guitars or attempting a bit of rap-rock on "Start Over" -- it feels not like experimentation but like a quick scan through a new music playlist. And that means Evolve feels very much like the digital Zeitgeist of 2017. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine