Saturday, December 26, 2009

Various - Trance Divas 2 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $17.98

Water Music Records: Cat. # 302 060 535-2
Released March 22, 2005

Track List:
Disc 1
1. Jessy - How Long (Vandoren & Vanhoyland Remix) (8:25)
2. Lange featuring Leah - Don't Think It (Feel It) (7:50)
3. Freeloader - Two Become One (3:39)
4. Skye - Venice Freaks (4:01)
5. ATB - Marrakech (Alex M.O.R.P.H. Synthetic Empire Remix) (9:05)
6. Taybe - Sarah Said (Fragma Remix) (5:16)
7. Antonia - This Night's Forever (4:02)
8. DJ Tatana featuring Jaël - Always On My Mind (Ronski Speed Edit) (3:52)
9. Matanka featuring Sheryl Deane - Near Me (7:02)
10. Marc et Claude featuring Maria Nayler - Free Spirit (7:13)
11. Aven - All I Wanna Do (Ferry Corsten Remix) (9:05)

Disc 2
1. Kyau vs. Albert featuring Julie - Not With You (Ronski Speed Radio Edit) (3:53)
2. Kate Ryan - The Promise You Made (Extended Mix) (5:59)
3. Above & Beyond featuring Zoë Johnston - No One On Earth (Gabriel & Dresden Mix)
4. Michael Splint featuring Sasja - Secrets Broke My Heart (Radio Extended Mix) (4:31)
5. Rock Ryders - Don't You Know (Full On Vocal Mix) (6:40)
6. Sun Decade - I'm Alone (Mirco de Govia Vocal Mix) (7:56)
7. Damae featuring Londonbeat - I've Been Thinking About You (Extended Vocal Mix) (6:41)
8. Galimar - Sunshine On A Rainy Day (Radio Mix) (3:33)
9. Novaspace - Time After Time (Novaspace Mix) (6:05)
10. Van Eyden featuring Susanne Webb - The 1 (Danny Wild vs. Peewee Vocal Remix) (7:08)
11. D:Fuse - Living The Dream (8:58)

(2010 Update:
This could have been a really hilarious review, had I been more confident in my quips at the time. Instead, I kept things rather objective and straight-forward, resulting in yet another wordy, track-by-track, dry review. Man, is it ever painful reading some of these again. Breeze through it for the jokes about vocal trance lyrics.)

IN BRIEF: At times fun, but ultimately unremarkable.

Trance divas. Just say that to yourself for a moment. Trance... divas…

Something about it doesn't quite sound right, does it -don't worry, there's a pretty good reason for it. You see trance, in the traditional sense, isn't something that aims to be the center of attention (we'll ignore the commercialization of it for the moment). When you are in a trance, all you are aware of is yourself; the music helps achieve this state of consciousness. In contrast, divas are the exact opposite. They demand your attention be turned to them because they are the center of the world. And, in most cases, they have the vocal skills to back up their outlandish claims and attitudes, which is why they often get a pass for their behavior.

So, when you try to combine music that lets you focus on yourself with vocals that force you to focus on them, you have a clashing of ideologies where one aspect has to give. In most cases, it's the vocalists that suffer.

Firstly, most trance singers just don't carry the same presence most singers do. For instance, whereas a house diva will belt out her lyrics with just as much soul as a black church choir (indeed, many were raised as such), a trance gal tends to drone along, attempting to either sound ethereal or euphoric, essentially trying to complement the music rather than draw attention from it. Unfortunately, this can lead to another problem.

It seems with most trance that use vocals these days there also has to be big synths to hit you with a rush of energy. When these synths are so loud and pronounced, hogging the spotlight at the peak of climaxes, the poor girl providing lyrics gets so overshadowed that whatever she had to say becomes inconsequential. The whole purpose of the track is no longer the lyrical content but the synth climax. She could either be singing about love or quantum physics; it really wouldn't make a difference.

Now, I'll grant there are a few vocal trance tracks that find a decent equilibrium (most famously the one that spearheaded the whole movement, DJ Tiësto's remix of Silence) but they do remain few and far between. For a form of music that relies more on the melodies than the lyrics, vocal trance is a hit and miss genre if you take it literally.

That all said, Trance Divas is an incredibly misleading title for a compilation. For one thing, you'll find no divas on here. Pretty much all the gals on offer have neither the voice nor the presence of a typical diva. Second of all, not everything here is trance -which is actually fine with me, really. The last thing I'd want to have to endure is two discs worth of poor-man's Silence-es. Sure, a number of these use Ferry Corsten pre-sets as their sound base, but that in itself does not make a track fit into a typical genre. If so, then one of these would actually be heavy metal! (Dont worry; you'll see what I mean).

Anyhow, enough ranting from me, as I have two discs to get through here. As such, this may not be as detailed as most of my reviews but, trust me, if I was that detailed, I'd end up becoming more repetitive than a Daft Punk track.

This first track by Jessy is a perfect example of the trouble with I find with a lot of vocal trance. Most of the lyrics (either about a jalapeno that hasn't quite digested from the day before, or love) are relegated to the opening few minutes. After that, the song focuses almost entirely on a melody introduced in a breakdown for the duration of the track, with a few returns to the two-line chorus. As a slice of moody anthem trance á la Silence, this is actually quite nice but the vocals are hardly needed, and tend to get drowned out when the melody is in play.

Lange and Leah provide a better offering with Don't Think It (Feel It). Leah's singing is suitable for the theme of finding a lost pet (or love), and Lange is smart enough to not overdo it with the main synth melody, finding a nice balance between the two. Okay, there is a pretty useless breakdown a third of the way through to introduce the melody (since when did everything else have to stop just to have melody start in a dance song?) but I can overlook that nitpick as Leah actually gets her second verse on the other side of it. It's a nice change of pace from your typical Silence wanna-be.

Freeloaders' Two Become One, a touching story of two water drops forming into a single drop (or love), may at first glance seem cheesy to trance lovers but might I remind you that not everything on here is trance. Really, this is a euro song, which is a nice change of pace after going through two typical trancers. As such, almost all the emphasis is on vocals and no major hooks at all. Sure, there're some little pianos and string pads, but none of these get major prominence and none are required for a short pop song such as this.

Next up is, um, er... What on earth is this? I think the lyrics have something to do with a race of Mr. Hydes living in Venice (or love) but, with singing this saccharine and what appears to be some sort of brand new genre I'll tentatively call 'happy hardstyle' (and yes, it really is as bad as it sounds), Skye's Venice Freaks is completely skippable. Okay, if they were going for something stupid, I can't really fault it. It doesn't mean I have to like it either.

Fortunately, ATB's Marrakech (with Alex M.O.R.P.H. providing the re-rub here) gives us something a little more grimy to clean us of that cheese. The baseline is a wonderfully grumbling, pulsing sucker that works nicely in setting a sinister mood. Mind, this is still more of a melodic track than a vocal track but when the lyrics are almost rendered unintelligible by effects (my guess is it's about love), you aren't really going to be paying much attention to them in the first place, are you.

Sarah Said by Trybe is also quite a cheesy little thing (well, what did you expect from a Fragma remix?) but it's kind of goofy fun too. The synths suck but I do like the lyrics, with their psuedo-lesbian indulgence. No, I'm serious! This might be a cover of another song but whether this was initially sung by a guy or not does not matter. There's a gal singing here now (and one with a cute voice, I might add) so, when she starts singing about falling in love with a girl named Sarah, what else could it be about?

This next track reminds me quite a bit of many a euro song from back in the glory years of the genre. This Night's Forever is a fairly straightforward dance track that uses a more typical verse/chorus structure, a simple synth riff, and lyrics sung by Antonia that are quite catchy without being annoyingly so. And, when the topic of your song is about the end of the Earth after the suns light has been extinguished as it goes nova (or love), the slightly more moody atmosphere feels quite appropriate.

Ronski Speed gives DJ Tatana and Jaël's Always On My Mind the Silence treatment here but, even in this edit, I just can't get excited about it. Jaël doesn't sound all that interested in singing about having lost something (probably love) and the big, euphoric climax is quite boring. Everything's just on a muddy cruise control, really. Thank god this is just an edit; I'd hate to have to sit through a typical eight minutes of this.

Things are now starting to get into anthem territory with Matanka's Near Me. Featuring the vocal talents of Sheryl Deane (of The Thrillseakers' Synaesthesia fame), the gal holds her own against the peppy synth builds and breakdowns, supplying decent enough oohs and aahs during the fills while singing something about trying to grab a hold of the air around her (or the love around her) when given the chance sparingly. It's just a shame the melody is too hokey to be taken all that serious. Yeah, I know it wants to be an uplifting, euphoric anthem like the great ones of yore, but if you need to use two bloody breakdowns and two bloody builds to hammer the idea home, you are just trying too hard, my friends. Besides, the hook isn't all that interesting. Moving on.

Marc et Claude may have cut their teeth on the harder side of trance but they seem to be getting softer in their old age. Here, they tap the lyrical talents of one Maria Nayler (most famously doing the lyrics for Robert Miles' One & One) to give us a slice of syrupy dance pop with useless breakdowns, builds, and bad synths. On the plus side, Nayler's innocently sweet, soothing vocals are pleasant when she gets a chance to sing about fireflies (or love). Free Spirit is one of the rare instances when the vocalist actually outshines the synths in their competition for attention.

Finishing off the first disc is Aven's All I Wanna Do with Ferry Corsten doing, well, Ferry Corsten. This is pretty much Corsten trance at its most basic really, with a catchy, rhythmic opening that eventually moves into by-the-numbers Corsten breakdowns, builds, synths, and riffs. Fine enough if you are new to it but, having heard it for over half a decade from him and countless copycats without much variation, I'll pass, thank you very much. On the plus side for all you fans of this type of trance, there are hardly any vocals utilized to get in the way of all those bright, finely produced arpeggiating synths. Of what's sung, it may be something about a woman's enjoyment of her vibrator, or about love. Does it really matter? Well, maybe if the Corsten synths weren't so prominent, it might.

Disc two picks up right where disc one left off as Kyau and Albert's Not With You gets yet another useless synthy breakdown less than a minute in. Don't worry, though, as it only lasts half a minute and we are treated to a decent slice of euro on the other side of it for the rest of the track. Julie definitely has a good voice to carry this song about more love.

Kate Ryan seems to have a slowly rising star at the moment and, if The Promise You Made is any indication, it is justifiable. Yet another decent slice of euro, little guitar strums and synth washes make up the musical bulk but plays second fiddle as Ms. Ryan carries this track on the strength of her vocals. A rather mellow song, she doesn't have to belt out anything and is able to nicely croon along to the theme of the devil coming for an unfortunate soul who made a deal with him (or love).

In Gabriel & Dresden's remix of Above & Beyond's No One On Earth, the boys rip off, er, pay tribute to many a classic EyeQ trance track by utilizing that wonderfully sounding distorted pad that producers such as Oliver Lieb and A.C. Boutsen used to great effect back in the day. I don't even mind it being introduced in a standard breakdown, as it really is great to hear on its own. Sadly, Zoë Johnston's vocals leave something to be desired. The theme of it, a serenade to an alien abductor (or just love in general), isn't bad but Johnston just comes off sounding like a poor-woman's Sarah McLachlan. I've heard her do some fine stuff in the past but she completely misses the mark here, sounding woefully off-key I'm afraid. Maybe it's just her lyrics don't quite match up to what Gabriel & Dresden are trying to do in this case. In any event, this one is not a strong vocal outing.

Secrets (Broke My Heart) by Michael Splint is another fun little slice of hi-nrg euro. Tapping Sasja for some vocal duty as she sings about crooked, lying politicians (or just a lying lover), a nice balance between lyrics and synths is met. Okay, the synths aren't all that great sounding, but there's a low-fi quality to them I find quite nostalgic.

Ah, now here's where those metal guitars I mentioned way before, finally make an appearance. Rock Ryders' Don't You Know is pretty much a tame hardstyle track that, I have to admit, is some good stupid fun. All of the lyrics are dealt with in a breakdown, and thusly rendered pretty much a non-issue since the track would work with or without them. No, as with most hardstyle, the following big synth build and peak is the main attraction. With its march-a-long theme you can't take it all that seriously, but when the track has some chunky power chords playing at the beginning and end, I doubt that's really the point. Sure to be a guilty pleasure for many.

For a change of pace from all the love themes (assuming that's what all these previous songs have been about), Sun Decade gives us something a little more, well, serious. I'm Alone seems to be about suicide, of all things. It's not really a topic touched upon by most epic trancers, and for good reason, as epic trance likes to be uplifting rather than introspective. In this sense, I'm Alone works wonderfully as a trance song. Even the requisite clichés like breakdowns and synthy builds don't feel obtrusive. This is probably mostly the work of Mirco de Govia's remix, though, as the man knows how to craft a decent tune.

Damae (of Fragma fame) does a cover of the Londonbeat euro classic I've Been Thinking About You, which isn't too bad at all. I quite like the idea of throwing bits of the original into this instead of just doing a weak dance cover and, coming off the emotional I'm Alone, it's nice to hear something fun. Aside from that, without much deviation from the original there's not much else to comment on. After all, we've all heard it played on our local radios for ages now.

Galimar returns us to euro territory with Sunshine On A Rainy Day, making use of many a supersaw to try and convince us this is actually trance. Who do they think they are kidding? Hey, I don't mind Euro one bit, especially when it's an ode to the good folk of my hometown, Prince Rupert (or just a metaphor for love). But, as I've said before, using a Corsten pre-set does not make your track trance. It just means you've used a Corsten pre-set.

Covering Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time is Novaspace here, doing a rather boring job of it. They only use a couple lines of chorus and repeat them sparingly throughout the track, the rest of it used up by weak synth chords and halting breakdowns. Plenty of rhythm intro and outro, though, for all your DJing needs.

Van Eyden gets Susanne Webb to sing an ode to Neo of The Matrix (or an ode to love) but her vocals aren't really important in this case, as most of this track gets used up with some horribly out-of-tune synths. I guess they were trying to go for something sinister sounding but really missed the target here. No energy is built up during this song, which isn't a good thing considering you have a breakdown mid-way through to allow some more trivial lyrics to play out before returning to the fray. How can they expect to maintain our interest while no rhythm is playing?

Finally, at the end of these two discs, we come to a bit of deep house, of all things. Well, maybe not pure deep house, but it's certainly more that than any kind of trance I've heard, as D:Fuse focuses far more on rhythm and vocals (about a DJ's girlfriend, I think, but maybe not, and no, he doesn't sing them) than melodies. The breakdown is pure vocal and chilled out piano; nothing uplifting or euphoric at all. I can see folks wanting the more energetic trance and euro offered on this compilation being mightily turned off from Living The Dream but it's their loss as this is a nice, mellow track to finish a night off.

And, having come to the end of this compilation, I have to say this has been a relatively middling affair. While some of these were fun in their own right, there really isn't anything on offer that I'd deem memorable either. A few of the hooks did manage to stick but not for very long. I can't see a single one of these tracks being thought of a year from now, much less becoming a classic. Sure, a couple of the more moving trancers may find their way into a DJ's bag but since they are so similar sounding to much of what else is out there, they'll hardly stick out from the pack either.

I will say this, however. It is so refreshing to come across a compilation that has the word 'trance' in the title (even if only half of it could even sparingly be considered trance) and isn't mixed by some DJ -although the diva part would then make more sense if it were. After all, aren't the real divas of the trance world the DJs?

Score: 5/10

Sun Decade - I'm Alone (Mirco de Govia Vocal Mix)

Written By Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for© All rights reserved.

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