Monday, July 11, 2016

Various - Trance Mission: Leon Bolier & Mike Shiver (Original TC Review)

Cloud 9: 2008

(2016 Update:
Hey look, it's me returning to that 'rip-on-trance' shtick our little website had gained a reputation for. Not that I desired a return to that, but this came out in an off-month, and me being a sucker for any sort of title that brought up
old-school flashbacks, figured this might be worth a listen-over. Sure beat giving the boys at Armada another chance, though I can't say this was much better. Listening to this again, it really throws a spotlight on how directionless the trance scene had become by the late '00s, trying and adapting any trendy new sound to stay relevant; heck, I even mentioned as such in this review, though I neglecting bringing up the short-lived '8th note' micro-genre. And Bolier's mix remains the more interesting of the two, the tunes at least trying to come up with an original style, despite some of it full of fail.

I touched on Leon's career trajectory in my update of his debut album
Pictures, but what of Mike Shiver? How has he held up? He jumped on that 'trouse' bandwagon along with the rest of them, including producing a track called Trouse. Look, his mix here was already filled with quickly dated trendwhoring tunes, so of course he'd keep doing the deed in the new decade. Guy's got a label to run, radio shows to promote; can't be left behind when there's bank to be made on the festival circuit.)

IN BRIEF: Now I remember...

When we were compiling our annual Worst Of TC list back in January, I was surprised by the outcome. Not the tracks themselves, as they all deserved their place in our Hall of Shame, but whereas my writing compatriots J’ and Will had a slew of dodgy epic trance in their choices, I offered none. At first I figured it had more to do with the odds, as I did review quite a range of music, exposed to material far worse than teeth-rotting trance (especially so in the ‘electro fart’ camps), but when I looked back on what I had covered, I was surprised to find mostly positive reviews of the genre. So then I thought perhaps epic melodic trance as a whole had gotten better, despite the odd sour tomato that makes its way to the top (Anthem, anyone?). Or could it be me? Had I maybe grown beyond gut distaste of this particular scene? Maybe I had achieved that mythical ‘post-jaded’ mindset.

After listening to this new double disc of trance titled Trance Mission, the real answer was given: I was just lucky. But more on that in a bit; first, some background one what exactly it is we have here.

So what we have here is the debut commercial DJ mixes of a pair of producers long time fans of melodic trance should be familiar with: Leon Bolier and Mike Shiver. I suppose the best way to describe their status in the trance echelon is ‘third tier’: both are certainly recognizable names, but neither have produced anything most would instantly be able to recall; also, in just about any popularity poll, they are typically mired in the middle of the pack. Fine if you’re content to remain at such a point in your career, but perhaps they’ve been chomping at the bit to take their careers to the next level, and doing a DJ mix for growing dance music distributor Cloud 9 certainly is a step in the right direction. Let’s find out how their first efforts are then.

Mr. Bolier gets dibs on the first disc, and takes off in fine fashion with Moonbeam’s catchy I Love Mornings. A couple pleasant trancey numbers later, and his mix takes a turn for the poppy. Very poppy. In fact... Heck, y’know friends? This is eurodance! Granted, Lange has always had an ear for that side of dance music, but just listen to what Schössow does in his remix of Beatitude (the peak after Kirsty Hawkshaw’s naff bit of singing). That bouncy hook is straight out of the big book of mid-90s euro; all that’s missing is a white ragga MC. Heh, it’d be quite interesting to see what Bolier would do with this sound if he decided to resurrect it somehow.

Instead, we are quickly courted off to the realms of decent-but-unremarkable progressive trance for a very long stretch. There’s little here I’d call awful (Jennifer Rene’s over-emoting on Invincible aside) but not much that gets the blood stirring either. Trouble is Bolier’s track sequence is quite dry, with too many unnecessary breakdowns lined up one after the other (the one in Extensions is particularly useless, not to mention Wardt’s use of glitchy percussion isn’t nearly as clever as it tries to be; nice moody tone though), with tracks that are timid in ratcheting the energy up after such downtime. About the only two that make standing impressions are Breakfast’s cascading white-noise synths in Dancing In The Moonlight, and Bolier’s own collaboration with Sied van Riel in Malibeer, an effective hard stomper (shame about the track resetting all that built-up energy at the end though).

On the other hand, perhaps this was intentional on Bolier’s part. After all, the track that lifts his set out of this middling funk is his own Ocean Drive Boulevard, an epic anthem that delivers on all fronts. And by following it up with a dark grumbler in Prominent and the energetic First Light from Bart Claessen, you have a final sequence of tracks that literally gallops with gusto towards the finish. It definitely paints his own music in a positive light, but still is a shame he didn’t dive into this material sooner, as Bolier exhibits some fine DJing sense here.

Ultimately, Leon’s a quality DJ when he bangs it out (or indulges in eurodance) but is hobbled by all the mediocre prog trance he seems insistent to play. How does Mike Shiver compare then?

Frankly, not at all, as his CD is quite different. Shiver’s delivered a set that highlights all that has gone wrong with trance this decade: the grotesque breakdowns, the insipid vocals, the melodic tripe, and, more recently, the cringe-worthy attempts at jumping on the ‘electro’ bandwagon.

For instance, what on earth is Sami Saari doing here? His lead hook is so terribly hokey, I can’t help but burst out in laughter at how much of an attitude try-hard it is. Even nu-skool breaks never came up with anything that corny; it’s like the shirtless barstar that wanders into a rave, hooped up on ecstasy and with powder on his nose, hootin’ and hollarin’ over how “phukin phat that shit is” while he tries to hump your girlfriend (and complains about the lack of PLUR when you tell him to fuck off). And Nic Chagall once again shows us how to utterly kill the momentum in a set with a remix of Cause You Know, where his limp rhythms actually have less playing time than all the nonsense he indulges in during his wank breakdowns and builds.

There’s plenty more I could rag on here, but let’s deal with the few positives instead: great bassline in Mat Zo’s remix of Music Is For Rich People; lovely remix of Helsinki Scorchin’ by Michael Cassette (an alias of two guys, for the record); solid beats in Marksun & Brian’s Saterday. These are some great moments, and I feel rather embarrassed for them to be surrounded by so much turgid fairy trance.

How there’s still a market for this Anjuna-like stuff is beyond me. The early lame ‘electro’ excursions aside, little on Shiver's disc sounds like it couldn’t have been produced during the last five years, and this sound’s always been ‘heard one, heard all’; it’s depressingly scared to shake the gravy train. Sure, it appeals to people without a penis, but even the most over-sentimental femme-pop isn’t this sappy (the ultra-produced uplifting synths really lay it on thick). At least Bolier’s disc was mostly self-aware during its cheesier moments; here it’s far too po-faced to be any fun.

As for Mike Shiver: The DJ, there really isn’t much to be said. His set’s perfunctory and lacking in surprises (Saterday being a clear exception); he’s essentially an Anjuna promo-bot, as nothing here stands out from all the other Anjuna/Armada/etc. DJs, although the ‘electro’ at the beginning suggests he’s perhaps recently dipped into the blow as well (and come away none the better for it).

So yes, I was indeed lucky in the year of 2007. Producers like Stephen J. Kroos and DJs like Menno de Jong had me believing the epic melodic side of trance was showing potential redemption in the wider world of club culture, and so long as guys like them continue to push ahead in their own way, it does. With tracks like Prominent and Saterday, Trance Mission itself offers glimpses of such too. However, Bolier and especially Shiver have also shown the genre still has a long way to go before all credibility is restored.

Written by Sykonee for, 2008. © All rights reserved.

Leon Bolier - Ocean Drive Boulevard
Joop - Prominent (Leon Bolier Remix)
Marksun & Brian - Saterday

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