Thursday, December 24, 2009

Paul van Dyk - The Politics Of Dancing (Original TC Review)

Ministry Of Sound Recordings: Cat.# MOSCD24
Year of Release: 2001

Track List:
(Disc 1)
1. Ashtrax - Digital Reason (4:48)
2. Joker Jam - Innocence (Paul van Dyk Rework) (4:17)
3. Private Taste - First (1:40)
4. Jimpy - Feeling Good (Original Version) (2:53)
5. Paul van Dyk - Vega (5:31)
5.b Filmpalast - I Want
6. Southern Comforter - Another Late Thursday (1:41)
7. iio - Rapture (6:14)
8. Sipping Soma - Superconcious (So Alive) (3:51)
9. Timo Maas - Killin Me (4:05)
10. Maji Na Damu - B.W.Y. (Remix by DJ 19 & H. Garden) (3:45)
11. U2 - Elevation (Paul van Dyk Remix) (8:04)
12. Paul van Dyk - Autumn (5:53)
13. Viframa - Cristalle (5:30)
14. Solicitous - Furthermost (4:14)
15. Subsky - Four Days (5:30)
16. Second Sun - Empire (6:10)
17. Paul van Dyk - Out There (3:25)

(Disc 2)
1. Sagitaire - Shout, C'mon (Coast To Coast Remix) (7:51)
2. Micro de Govia - Epic Monolith (7:36)
3. Ralphie B - Massive (5:06)
4. David Forbes - Questions Must Be Asked (2:47)
5. Way Out West - Activity (3:35)
6. Connector - Interface (6:40)
7. Blank & Jones - Secrets & Lies (Solid Session Remix) (2:58)
8. Lexicon 4 - Reach Me (4:35)
9. Jamnesia - Reset (0:54)
10. 4 Strings - Into The Night (5:32)
11. Active X - Let's Go (4:55)
12. Signum - In Progress (2:58)
13. Walter & Gelder - Section O (4:34)
14. Solid Sleep - Club Attack (Paul van Dyk Remix) (6:26)
15. Guardians Of The Earth - Starchildren (5:32)
16. Nu NRG - Dreamland (5:41)

(2010 Update:
God. 4000 words. What was I thinking? Um, well, my intent was to try to capture exactly what it was like to listen to these two CDs -every nuance, change, and feeling. The thing is, I believe I actually succeeded in doing so. If you can get past the daunting word count and simply read the review, it does a good job of detailing what goes on, if rather dryly. It still wasn't a good idea though, and thankfully I stopped writing reviews to this lengthy extent, although there were still a few cumbersome ones awaiting.

For those who want the short gist of the CD, this was a solid effort on Dyk's part. I'd argue he was never as good as this again, and the tunes hold up remarkably well. Still a highly recommended release for any casual fan of melodic, energetic trance.)

In his liner notes, Paul van Dyk writes, "For me, DJing is more than just mixing records together -it is about the vibe in the club, the interaction with the crowd through the music. Obviously, when you are in the studio actually mixing the CD, there is no one there to give you feedback and that was why, before this CD, it didn't really appeal to me. I needed the crowd there. I needed to work with them."

I completely agree.

The main thing I always find lacking in most DJ mix album is the spontaneity that comes with the profession itself. In order for the DJ to take the listener at home on the proverbial journey, songs have to be carefully selected and arranged (many times also cleared with labels as well) in order to fit it into the eighty minutes a CD can ultimately hold. I guess it's the tradeoff of mixing for the home rather than the club, where random tracks played out are just fine.

There've been plenty of mix albums that attempt to capture the vibe of a club or rave and while there have been some outstanding efforts, ultimately I am still just sitting at home listening to it. The most I can hope for is the music to transport my consciousness out of my surroundings into a setting far more ideal (quite doable with a little psychotropic assistance, I might add).

So, does Paul van Dyk manage to accomplish this? For the most part, he does an admirable job of things, even if he had to tinker with a number of songs in the studio to accommodate his particular style of music to do so. I won't hold it against him, though. I only rate what I hear, not its relation to other material out there.

Starting with disc one, the warm-up disc as van Dyk calls it, things get going quite nicely with Digital Reason by Ashtrax. Hitting all the right notes with a bass heavy rhythm to get your feet moving and sonic washes that let your mind drift, this track will quickly draw you onto the dance floor. Two minutes in, a trancey lead and some synthetic lyrics ups the ante, building momentum into a quick transition into Innocence by Joker Jam, pretty much only retaining a similar bassline that is part of van Dyk's reworking. The harsh thumpiness of Digital Reason soon makes a departure, leading us into more driving territory that is a van Dyk trademark. Eventually, the song breaks down into floaty synth and voice pads, accentuated by electronic pulses and minimal percussion. I've never been adverse to a mild breakdown of this sort, as it keeps the momentum going just enough to still allow you to catch your breath. Even one this early on in a mix isn't distracting in that it stands as a nice prelude to bigger and better things later on.

Once the breakdown plays out, another quick mix into First by Private Taste picks the pace up again, a techy little number with plenty of electronic blips and pulses to tickle at the mind. However, with only a minute-thirty used, this is merely a transitional piece to lead into Feeling Good by Jimpy through a mild breakdown. Once given the reigns, Feeling Good drives hard and direct for over a minute, eventually breaking down into trippy vocals and synth washes. I'm actually a bit surprised that I'm still enjoying this despite so many breakdowns in the last few minutes. There's just enough momentum during and between them that I can keep grooving; more like brief pauses rather than grotesque interludes.

Soon enough, rhythm that's a little less punchy starts up for the next track, Paul van Dyk's Vega as the voices and washes carry on. Gradually these sonic textures fade back to give way to Vega's own ambience and, once the transition is complete, we're chugging right along with sonic splashes and electronic riffs that never really overtake the rhythm in prominence. A brief sample of Filmpalast's I Want peaks its head for half a minute some two minutes in but this is Vega's time to shine for the most part. Warm synth pads sweep over at four minutes into this track, allowing for effects to flutter around as they play out in another brief breakdown for a good thirty seconds. Nice enough but these continuous breakdowns are starting to get a bit drawn out now. Hopefully the momentum will get turned up a notch soon.

Ask, of course, and thou shall receive.

Once the rhythm gets going again, a new element is added to Vega: the choppy, clickity-clack percussion of Southern Comforter's Another Late Thursday. Damn, but does this ever get the feet moving. As Vega comes to an end, Another Late Thursday carries on for a bit with minimal electronic synths and washes, merely serving as a transition to iio's mega-hit, Rapture. Letting the percussion carry on through Rapture really adds a lot to this song, keeping the feet moving as only good tech house can. Because of its prominence, this percussion completely dominates your psyche, drawing you in as the subliminal melodies and lyrics of Rapture tickle you along the way with rolling smoothness. I could dance to this all night.

Unfortunately, the momentum takes a dive with Superconcious (So Alive) by Sipping Soma. Coming from such techy goodness as we've had for the last eight or so minutes, to be thrust into fairly standard thumping percussion is quite a contrast. Additionally, the mood of this song is far more bouncy compared to what we've been served up thus far, throwing it so far out of place I'm left to wonder what exactly just happened here. It does gets a bit more driving some three minutes in but by that time were almost into Timo Maas' Killin Me. Transitional breather track as van Dyk shifts gears, perhaps? It's about the only reason I'd see to include Superconcious at that point.

In any event, Killin Me manages to regain some of this lost momentum with its floor-stomping rhythms. Despite a couple brief breakdowns throughout, it doesn't really go for big moments, instead only concerned about moving feet with punchy bass and acidy electronics. Besides, the bigger moments seem to be reserved for the next track, B.W.Y. by Maji Na Damu. Given a reworking by DJ 19 and H. Garden, this track builds upon the techy mood of Killin Me with escalating synth leads and vocoder voices. It soon breaks down into some playful organic percussion for half a minute, then begins to build back up to its original intensity. Once everything comes together, the vocoder voices get tweaked about a bit as well. If any momentum was lost with Superconcious, it's easily been regained here, and even taken up a notch.

Building upon that thrust in intensity is an incredibly funky remix of U2's Elevation by Paul van Dyk himself. With a growling bassline to carry things along, we get little snippets of Bono, piano washes, and synthy stabs for a good three and a half minutes. A breakdown with spacey pads, stuttering synths and more of the song's original lyrics is played out to give us a breather, but this is still a rhythm heavy song, so it doesn't dwell on this downtime for too long before layers are built up again to pummel floors with its heavy bass and punchy leads. Granted, it is a bit gimmicky but Elevation sure is a lot of fun, too.

But I guess van Dyk is getting tired of all this techy stuff as he mixes into quite a different song in his own Autumn. This is Paul van Dyk trance at its most basic: simple driving rhythms, melodic synth pads and washes, and pleasant sounding electronic riffs. It sounds nice and all but it sure is another stark contrast to what's come before. It's another shifting of the gears, unfortunately losing the momentum built upon previous tracks. Still, where he goes from this is quite good.

Mixing nicely into Cristalle by Viframa (thanks due to very similar rhythms), this next song has a wonderful, subdued lead that gets a huge boost in intensity thanks to accompanying synth pad washes. Nearly three minutes in, there's a breakdown that pulls the ol' 'start out low, then build into a supersaw-snareroll combo' trick that plagues a lot of trance, but it doesn't come across as redundant here, probably because there hasn't been any of it heard yet on this mix. It's a fine element to pull once or twice a set, so long as the payoff is good; not just in the following climax within the song but also in the following song.

While Furthermost by Solicitous may not take it to the next level, momentum isn't lost either with another similar breakdown either. Instead, it keeps things on an even keel with more of the same style of rhythm. A subdued little electronic riff that flutters and stutters along gets most of the attention, with synthy pads and chunky low leads joining the fray in a brief breakdown a minute in before coming all together for the lead out. Again, it sounds quite nice but I'm beginning to get a bit anxious to be taken to the next level.

As the mix into Four Days by Subsky (Gilbert van Haasen providing a remix) starts, it seems I'll get my wish, as a bit more of a driving bassline is present here. Once the transition is complete, sinister space pads and effects ominously weave about as a simple electronic lead plays and percussion picks up in intensity at regular intervals. In a mild breakdown a minute and a half into Four Days, a new element is added that picks the intensity up. This little stuttering electronic lead gets plenty of effects added to it with ethereal pads washing about in the background. Once the rhythm comes back, you're swept away in a sea of sonic washes. Great stuff.

As these sonic textures fade off, some punchier rhythm is introduced as van Dyk mixes into Second Sun's Empire. Punchier they may be, however, this song doesn't really seem to up the rhythm, keeping us right where we were with Four Days in terms of momentum. Which is fine, I guess, until this song breaks down some two minutes in to allow a stuttering synth to play. Extra stuttering elements are progressively added as things build for two minutes (!) but not in any exuberant way. Once the rhythm kicks back in, it seems to hardly make a difference. Kind of odd but the transition into Paul van Dyk's Out There helps to get feet moving again with fiercer rhythm than anything heard yet on this mix. It's quite straight forward really, but effective nonetheless. It's a suitable way of ending a warm-up disc to get you excited for the second.

As a CD to start a night off with, this is pretty good. Clever enough not to overindulge with big moments that could drain an audience early, there's just enough energy here to get you excited for things to come anyways. A few commercial hits thrown in for good measure are always shrewd methods of turning heads and drawing feet to the dance floor and they are tweaked around enough to even give trainspotters something to grin about. As a set itself, I get the impression I am listening to almost three different ideas assembled into one. While I enjoy variety in a set, the fact it loses some vigor after some of the mixes tends to draw you out of the moment. Still, these weaker elements are infrequent and easily outshone by what goes right in this mix.

So, having been properly primed by Paul with the first disc of The Politics Of Dancing, let us take a dive into the second disc, which is described as the cap on a night in the club.

Starting out with the benign voice pads of Coast 2 Coast's remix of Shout, C'mon by Sagitaire, we're instantly drawn into tranced out bliss. Layers of percussion are progressively added as the pads fade back for the time being, allowing us to get our groove on. By two minutes in, we're thumping along quite nicely along with little electronic bits and the voice pads emerge again. A breakdown a minute later allows some simple synth stabs to emerge and, once the rhythm returns, they combine to get our pulse pumping a little more. A little later, most of the elements retreat to allow for some harder electronic rhythms to take over. Eventually, though, the original elements return to take us into the next song, where the real focus of this set lies.

Starting out Epic Monolith by Micro de Govia is some mild breakbeats but once the main rhythm kicks in less than half a minute later, the intensity is kicked up a notch with some chunky acid squelches that slowly pitch bends for another good minute. Once at its peak, the song breaks down into spacey effects and a piano melody. It doesn't dwell on this for long, however, faded back briefly before echoing synth stabs build back into the initial driving rhythm initially established. Once the piano melody returns to join the fray, we're treated to some enjoyable melodic trance. Elements alternate with each other for the rest of this song as effects wash about, accentuating points throughout and never loosing energy in the process.

A brief transition of simple, driving rhythm takes us immediately into Ralphie B's Massive, where the big, stabbing synth chords of this track are fed into some reverb and given a chance to shine brilliantly. A quick buildup sends us rising into extra percussion, driving the chords harder. A techy interlude plays some two and a half minutes in but the synth chords return soon enough, and why not? These are great for building up energy at the beginning of a set.

As Massive plays out, David Forbes' Questions Must Be Asked mixes in, treating us to some more techy fun before giving way to some supersaw stabs in a breakdown. Keeping the momentum going just enough with some tinkling electronic arpeggios as the stabs play out, once the rhythm comes back in full force less than a minute later, the song drives headlong for a good minute before quickly mixing into Way Out West's Activity.

Picking right up on the techy nature of Questions Must be Asked's rhythm, Activity splices in some subtle electronics alternating across the stereo spectrum. The rhythm mildly withdraws to allow some low synth leads and spacey pads to join the fray but once it returns, extra percussion snapping in alternating speakers gets the feet moving even harder. Chants fed through effects are added and we're really falling into quite the bit of psychedelia. Over two minutes in, most of the elements leave for the time being to allow the percussion to drive things forward and it makes good use of its time with effects and synthy arpeggiations accentuating song throughout.

As the pads bring the rhythm of Activity to a close, Interface by Connector picks things up with a simpler set of percussion. A more driving bassline, however, keeps the momentum going for a good minute and a half as subdued, simple synths play in the background. By two minutes in, things start to slow down a bit as the rhythms elements are gradually withdrawn and a high-end synth pad permeates the setting; this actually gets down to almost a crawl in momentum. While the rhythm eventually returns in full force, it feels as though some of that initial force given to us over the first six tracks has been lost.

It doesn't get much better during the course of Interface as nearly four minutes in, the song breaks down, allowing for the synths to take over for half a minute. A little breakbeat interlude plays out for a bit and things build back up for a driving run towards the end but the rhythm here is just so simplistic in nature (not good for a rhythm heavy track and especially not good coming off of the busy rhythm of Activity) that whatever momentum that was lost in the first breakdown hasn't been regained.

Still, Interface segues wonderfully into the synth stabs of Solid Session's remix of Blank & Jones Secrets & Lies, driving this next track quite nicely and managing to recapture some of that lost momentum. Once the main body of Secrets & Lies hits a minute later, there's quite a euphoric feeling as melodic synth pads wash over with a female vocal sample of the songs title.

It's somewhat short-lived, however, as one quick transition not even two minutes later into Reach Me by Lexicon 4 quickly shifts focus from euphoria to a mellower atmosphere. Granted, the rhythm is still quite driving but with tranquil pads, subdued melodic synth leads, and effects mostly conjuring up images of seaside serenity, there definitely is a change in tone. I wouldn't go so far as to say the momentum is lost, though, as Reach Me certainly keeps you tuned in. I guess a peaceful interlude is just what the doctor ordered here.

Wise not to let us daydream for too long though, van Dyk switches scenery yet again with Reset by Jamnesia. After a bit of set-up rhythm for half a minute, a most excellent bit of sweeping trancey arpeggiations absolutely tickles at the synapses! This is just the introduction, however, to lead us to Into The Night by 4 Strings, a track that takes us higher than we've been yet on this disc. With fairly standard rhythm setting us up for a good minute and a half, the song vigorously pushes forward to a breakdown where a wonderfully melodic synth chord echoes for a bit, then comes on full force with solid kicks and a driving bassline. As the song repeats this again, the percussion comes on harder with extra hi-hats and snare snaps, eventually allowing the synth chords to fade back and take us to the next level.

Or at least, that's what I was anticipating.

Let's Go by Active X isn't bad, per se, but coming off the energy of Into The Night, the simple driving rhythm isn't given much to work with as punchy sounds and effects pummel their way about. It really could have used a great sounding riff or techy percussion following up on the great sounds of the previous track. A fierce build accentuated with a synth wash helps regain some of that lost energy but I feel as though I've been taken on a completely unexpected tangent here. Signum's In Progress continues us down this harder road, building intensity with a stuttering synth chord that gradually gets doubled up in delay effects before getting the rhythm driving once again for a minute or so.

Walter & Gelder takes us into a slightly techier side of trance as Section O starts out a quick mix later. An absolutely fierce sounding electronic effect joins the rhythms fray but things get a fair bit calmer a minute and a half later into this track as all but a simple kick, hi-hat, and snap are left. Half a minute later, some boisterous synth chords emerge and are given a chance to bloom with imperious intensity. It's short lived though, as the song returns to a more simple nature as a chunky bit of acid plays with the rhythm. The initial fierce effect comes and goes at points, normally at little pitch drops in the bass, but things play out in a fairly standard fashion into the next track.

Solid Sleep's Club Attack is a nice little melodic number with simple driving rhythm (how many times have I said that now?) and benign string pads. Straightforward synth chords carry the main leads of this song and, um, well, there isn't too much more to it than that. There aren't any big builds or huge riffs present. Club Attack just kind of grooves along inconspicuously and I'm not so sure if this was an appropriate place for such a track. The anticipation for something bigger is still kind of lingering after Into The Night and, despite a few teases here and there, van Dyk seems quite content to leave things on cruise control.

Starchildren by Guardians Of The Earth, on the other hand, storms out of the gate with a punchier kick and sweeping synth pads perhaps hinting at that long overdue payoff. However, it quickly settles into a very similar rhythm to the last few tracks. Less than a minute in, a simple little electronic lead joins the fray, adding a bit more jump to the track, but not enough to really take it to the next level. At around three minutes in, the song breaks down to allow for a little manipulation of the synth pad to be fed through effects but for the most part what we hear in the opening minute permeates the duration. Fine enough, I guess, but between this, the latter half of Section O, and Club Attack we've been on an even keel for nearly fourteen minutes now. When are you going to take it up a notch, Paul?

Nu NRG's Dreamland starts out promising enough with busy rhythms and a rolling bassline. Electronic leads establish a bit of energetic thrust as we dive into a breakdown with synthy pads a minute and a half in. Things play out for while, letting the lead join as well as things build quite nicely. However, a minute later most of everything fades back to allow a stuttering supersaw to take the reigns of the build. Another minute later of this building, thumping bass kicks finally get things going again in the rhythm department. Everything finally comes together and plays out with some great passion, but unfortunately it's missing the allusion needed by previous tracks leading up to Dreamland to truly make this special. Oh well.

I have to say disc two started out promising enough but somewhere along the way it feels as though the plot was lost. The final stretch of songs after Into The Night (bits of Section O and Dreamland notwithstanding) never seem to take off the way the lead up to it tends to hint it potentially could. van Dyk mentions in his liner notes that this is a representation of what he would play at the end of a club night but although many DJs do tend to play less energetic tracks towards the end of a night compared to peak hours (the first half of this disc, I'd imagine) as a means to bring the crowds down, it still seems disappointing to do so.

As a whole, The Politics Of Dancing is a solid enough affair, with plenty of great moments outweighing the weaker ones. Mixing is smooth, with most transitions between tracks restrained in their length; of course, I'd expect nothing less from a studio mix. Some tracks seem to contrast each other oddly, and does cause for a loss in momentum in spots, but for the most part it is regained in subsequent tracks.

The biggest gripe I have though, is that so many of these tracks have such similar, simple driving rhythm (a few care of van Dyk's studio reworkings, others of their own admission), causing long stretches of these mixes to coast along unvaryingly and rendering them almost non-descript. It doesn't come as much surprise to me that some of the most standout moments on these two discs are areas where the rhythm was allowed to diverge from this formula, thus giving these tracks more prominence from the others. However, this is merely the van Dyk style and chances are if you've come looking for this release, you know to expect it, perhaps even anticipate it.

If you enjoy the lighter side of trance music, there are some great moments to be had on this release.

SCORE: 8/10

Another Late Thursday/Rapture mash-up.
Subsky - Four Days
Reset into Into The Night.

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2004 for TranceCritic.Com.© All rights reserved.

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