Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Armin van Buuren - A State Of Trance 2006 (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2006

(2015 Update:
My friends, this review is
awful! ...is what you want me to say, right? I won't deny this is one tedious slog, taking forever to get to any point and forcing the reader to wade through waves of bile to do so. This thing is seventeen-hundred words long, with maybe two or three paragraphs of a clear point being made throughout. Hell, I spent the opening three-hundred words building to a lame joke about the cover. Who has time to read that? Certainly no one in this day and age. And there's so much more that's just cringe worthy to read now: still doing track-by-track in some instances, rambling on about inconsequential details, and what the Hell was I going on about with constant reference to 'Glory Years'? I just listened to a DJ mix that sounds much closer to Millennial trance than this one, A State Of Trance 2004. This sounds nothing like that.

I was tempted to do a full Update review, as I've plenty fresh things to say about this mix, but that'd be cheating my ironclad rules. Besides, do I really need to spend any more words on
A State Of Trance 2006? I mean, just look at this review! It's a bitter, bloated beast, ornery and cranky for reasons I can't recall now, beyond my utter frustration with Armin's scene in general. All that hype, all that marketing, all that product and good intentions. All that waste of my time.)


IN BRIEF: Still living the Glory Years.

Armin van Buuren’s always been the guy who remains cheerfully optimistic in the face of adversity, and it clearly shows in his approach to music. His brand of uplifting trance is known to rock many a club night while putting sincere smiles on all those who hear it, equally enjoying the soaring melodies while Armin exuberantly lays down the anthems behind the decks.

But one has to wonder whether Armin is growing tired of his role as cheerleader for the epic trance brigade. After all, nearly every other DJ that helped build the style into the dominating party music that it was at the turn of the century has begun to move on to other pastures, leaving Armin to carry on in their stead. He’s certainly made ample use of being given the spotlight, as his star rose to the elites of popular trance DJs while promoting his A State Of Trance internet radio show as the premier source for new uplifting tunes. However, being stuck in that typecast has left him at a standstill for the last few years.

His artist album Shivers from last year saw him attempt to break that mold by creating songs outside the trance template. A worthy idea, but the results were uninspiring to casual happeners and met with annoyance from his hardline trance fans. Still, Armin knows if he wants to be held in higher regard outside his core niche, he’s going to have to step up his game. So, no more Mr. Happy Exuberant Nice Guy. With the grim determination of a DJ on a mission to bring trance back to its nostalgic highs, Armin presents to us the latest collection of the best trance music his radio show has to offer.

Well, one theory for the awful cover image at least.

Anyhow, here we are with Armin’s latest edition of his annual A State Of Trance series. As usual, there are plenty of complaints from listeners of his radio show that there are too many tracks which have been played to death. I’m still befuddled by this complaint; unless you are an extreme Armin fanboy that has got to have everything Armin puts out, this release really isn’t for the dedicated radio listener. Rather, the aim here is simple: compile the standouts from the program for those who don’t listen to it much (or, like me, at all), thus giving Armin the necessary promotion in places that are not the interweb - namely, music stores where money can be made. Fortunately for the non-radio listener and non-downloader, there are plenty of new, exclusive, unreleased tracks to be had in this edition, so if fresh material is what you’re after, you’ll get some bang for your buck.

Following similar themes set by previous editions, 2006 divides the selection of tunes between two different types of sets. Last year, Armin didn’t know if his audience would get the idea, so he gave the discs idiot-proof titles of Light and Dark. He seems to show a little more faith in his fans this year though, going for the slightly more descriptive titles At The Beach and In The Club. Since it’s the first disc here, let us start with the beachy music.

And Mike Foyle’s Shipwrecked is as fine an opener for such a theme as any. Pleasant piano melodies, seaside sound effects, and warm pads make up the bulk, with simple rhythms keeping the pace on easy cruise control. This is quite the blissy offering, easily putting me into a trancey, tranquil sense of waterfront calm.

...Only to be promptly taken out of it by the questionable guitar work in White Sand. I can kind of hear what DJ Shah was shooting for with this track, that of a loungey Mediterranean mood. Unfortunately it comes across as mere noodly finger plucking, without any kind of proper attention paid to stringing together a cohesive harmony. It’s like a poor-man’s Michael Brook with a dance beat.

We quickly leave these seaside tunes though, entering a stretch of moody vocal prog numbers, each followed by a charming instrumental to complement them. These are all quite nice to listen to, keeping the mood on a gradual climb with each track sounding unique from the previous without losing that all important flow. Although the tracks never quite lift beyond a few minor emotional peaks (most notably Junkie XL’s remix of Niyaz’ Dilruba and the Whiteroom remix of Zirenz’ Edge Of Space), they are effective in drawing you into a pleasant trance. It’s just as nice as background music as it is something you can absorb yourself into.

Once Jody Wisternoff’s Cold Drink, Hot Girl changes the general tone of this mix to something a little more groovey, Armin sees fit to gently ease us out of our blissy tenure with the ethereal setting of One With Sanctuary from Incolumis. No apparent hook to be had with this track; just gentle pad work with appropriate rhythms. Definitely a nice capper to this pleasant little disc.

Ack, but Armin decides to keep going. I’ve complained about him throwing on additional tracks at the end of a set when the lead-up to it suggests he’s wrapping up, just because it comes off as milking a CD’s length for all its worth even if you’ve said all that needs to be said. Still, his choice of add-ons isn’t too bad this time out. Even if Envio’s For You has the unfortunate distinction of being ‘one track too many’, it’s a decent track regardless.

Overall though, At The Beach certainly manages to create the atmosphere Armin’s title shoots for. Although a couple tracks feel out of place (I suspect the Karen Overton one may just be PR plugging, but that’s a rant for another review), none of them really detract from the overall tone set-up by Shipwrecked and, more or less, is brought to its natural conclusion at the end. It’s not a revolutionary mix, but works within its confines and should make for a nice summer soundtrack.

As for the second disc...

Shit...

My friends, this is awful!

Damned near every single fucking song does the exact same thing! I just need to provide a link to Fable’s Above for a description (2015 Edit: whoops, that link no longer exists!), and let that repeat itself. If you’re too lazy to actually click the link, here’s the gist of how it goes from start to finish: intro and outro beats matched; minor melody; breakdown, build, soaring uplifting melody, jump in the air with your fist pumping, supposedly cheering Armin on for selecting the ‘choon’; repeat. That’s it. The repetitive redundancy this disc contains isn’t that far removed from that found in hardstyle mixes. The energy is completely flatlined from the get-go, at no point ever seeming to lead anywhere other than just one breakdown after the other, and the predictability of it gets old fast. Were I to implement my Patent Pending Trance Drinking Game to this disc, I’d leave with a very tortured liver.

It’s not that all the individual songs on display here are bad examples of epic trance; put into a better set with more room to stand out, any one of them would probably be good peak time moments. However, Armin’s arrangement and mixing is so utterly bland, the tracks never get a chance to show any kind of personality, which is a far cry from the flavour to be had in the first disc. The beats are simply aligned, the keys properly matched, and that’s it. A robot could do the same job. Say, maybe that’s what gives with the blank look in Armin’s face on the cover: he’s been replaced by an android!

There are a couple points where this mix seems to break the mold, however slightly, but not always for the better. Highlights include: the better than average melody in DJ Governor’s Red Woods; some quirky synthy delights to be found in Stoneface & Terminal’s Venus; the SUPREMEsaw synths of Thomas Bronzwaer’s Shadow World (though that just may be familiarity sparking my interest, since I’ve already heard it on Phynn’s recent DJ mix for the In Trance We Trust series). Lowlights include: both Kyau vs. Albert tracks, who’s blend of bland adult contemporary songwriting with trance beats seems to kill just about every show of momentum; Armin’s own laughable Sail.

Actually, since he gives his own new anthem the spotlight at the end, I may as well give it the review spotlight as well. It’s as though Armin, still trying to create that one classic that will be played forever and ever, took a look at every single major hit in the past and fused them all together. The melody is super-stupidly simple, pretty much hitting single notes on every beat and played with just about every kind of sound you’ve heard in epic trance. You get bleepy synths that made PPK’s ResuRection the smash it was; you get plinky pianos that made Children the hit it was; happy-go-lucky rhythms which are vintage Ferry Corsten; and, of course supersaw breakdowns, sure to bring back Rank 1 memories. And that’s just the first fucking half! I’ll admit I have a soft spot for the voice pads, but Armin kills it with a horribly distorted synth sound in a second breakdown, which reminds me of Tiësto’s take on Adagio For Strings in sound, and The fucking Launch in ‘melody’, of all damned things. To complete the idiocy of trance clichés, he brings in stuttery supersaws alongside the distorted synth once the beat returns. What is this, epic trance meets hardstyle? Christ... Either this is meant to be a ‘tribute’ to the Glory Years of epic trance that totally missed the mark, or a very, very sick joke.

I honestly don’t know how anyone can take Armin seriously after this. At The Beach showed some promise, but In The Club destroys it in an instant with its tiresome re-hashing. In Armin’s mind, 1999 is still going strong, and I suppose with the continuous influx of new kids to the scene, he’ll be able to live off of that vibe for a long while still. He’s apparently made his bed with the Glory Years, and you can either join in with his never-ending ride or go elsewhere. Of course, once you’ve moved past that introductory stage A State Of Trance seems custom made for, you usually will.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. All rights reserved.


ACE TRACKS:
Zirenz - Edge Of Space (Whiteroom Remix)
Incolimus - One With Sanctuary
Stoneface & Terminal - Venus


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