Saturday, December 26, 2009

Various - A Trip In Trance 4: Mixed by Rank 1 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $16.98

HiBias Records: Cat. # HIB-10272
Released Jan 25, 2005

Track List:
1. Inner State - Changes (6:49)
2. Rachael Starr - Till There Was You (Gabriel & Dresden Mix) (6:42)
3. Ridgewalkers - Find (3:03)
4. Alt + F4 - Alt + F4 (6:19)
5. Benjamin Bates - Whole (4:50)
6. Jan Gustafsson - True Fiction (5:48)
7. Ernesto vs Bastian - Dark Side Of The Moon (5:46)
8. Sherrie Lea - No Ordinary Love (Kyau vs Albert Mix) (5:18)
9. Sandler - Theme Song (Sandler Mix) (3:32)
10. Hemstock & Jennings - Passion (John O'Callaghan Remix) (5:18)
11. Precursor - Pulsar (4:49)
12. Kenny Hayes - Daybreaker (Airbase Mix) (5:46)
13. Rank 1 - Beats @ Rank 1 Dotcom (6:00)
14. Jesselyn - Omnia (Tech-trance Mix) (5:03)

(2010 Update:
Kind of sloppy, this. I think this was a case of my so-called 'chatty' stream-of-thought writing getting the best of me but I didn't really take this release seriously. As all those contemporary trance reviews from earlier in the year can attest to, I'd grown quite cynical of the sound, and wasn't expecting much. Folks thought I was utterly daft in giving this the score I did, though were I to review it today, it'd probably earn a 5 or 6. It's still fun in portions.)

IN BRIEF: The true sound of reverb.

When I saw the promo sticker on A Trip In Trance 4 claiming "this is THE only domestic release to feature the true sound of Trance", you just know I got a little twinkle in my eye. The true sound of trance? Really? You mean to tell me everything in the last ten years is forgotten and we are now offered a compilation that contains the true sound of trance, as the name originally was used? No supersaws? No useless vocals? No halting breakdowns? No Corsten pre-sets? Just hypnotic loops, spacey pads, sci-fi samplings, and acid to spare? Hah! I think not.

I can see you are already thinking, “Oh, great. He's just going to use this review to gush over old stuff while bashing new stuff.” Don't worry, my friends. I'm not that petty.

Having accepted the fact the word trance has come to encompass more music than was initially intended, I've just learned to be a little more wary of anything with the genre's title on it. Unlike the old days where you'd know what you'd get with trance in the comp's title, it's gotten riskier for those preferring either mainstream or underground styles. Granted, you can usually tell what a release will have by track lists or label influence, but sometimes you may be tricked into getting something you hadn't intended.

While this series tends to aim for the more underground side of things, A Trip In Trance 4 is still a commercial release, so I wouldn't expect to hear, say, psytekk, on here. However, I do hope to hear more than just a bunch of euro trying to pass itself off as trance. Fortunately, Dutch producers Bennio de Goeij and Piet Bervoets, more commonly known as Rank 1, have been tapped to compile and arrange this edition, a pair that have had enough experience in the game to have an idea of what the true sound of trance is.

As is my tradition when delving into a new release, I plunked the CD into my player, threw on my trusty Sennheiser 580 headphones, cranked the volume to an appropriate level, and lay back on my couch in preparation to be swept up in the sonic assault. And what an assault! Opener Changes by Inner State sounds mellow enough with its Mediterranean atmosphere, but erupts with a wall of reverb so intense, the details are drowned. What kind of crappy mastering-

Less than a minute in, I slapped my head and turned the surround sound on my player off. I'd forgotten modern trance loves to crank the reverb effects to eleven, rendering the need for surround sound obsolete, especially on headphones.

Ah, now I can hear what's going on with Changes. And you know what? This isn't half bad at all. The hooks are simple and succinct, the vocals are rendered unintelligible enough as to not be distracting from the music, and the downtime doesn't dawdle. Then there's that rhythm! Bottom heavy and driving, it gets you grooving wonderfully despite the floaty effects about. Perfect opener, this song is.

We get a perfunctory mix into the next track, as they will mostly be on here. Really, this is more of a compilation than a DJ mix, so I won't be judging Piet's mixing abilities. I'll still be watching for track arrangement, though, so there'd better not be any lost momentum throughout.

The 21st century versions of Jam & Spoon, Gabriel & Dresden, give us another trancified remix of a pop song, this one Rachael Starr's Till There Was You. The sinister, pulsing synth that growls in the background is wonderfully apt to the song's lyrics about a girl who sings about her growing addiction to drugs. Well, it could also be an addiction to love, but I like my interpretation better. It suits the choking depressive sound of the remix. Till There Was You feeds off the initial thrust of Changes nicely with its sparseness, and the little vocal respite of Find by Ridgewalkers (Andy Moor's remix, I am told, but there's not indication of this on the credits) works decently as a follow-up. Only two and a half minutes of the track is used, though, as were quickly heading off into more energetic territory.

Yikes, but is Alt + F4 ever a cookie-cutter trance track. If The KLF had ever made a book called The Manual: How To Have A Number 1 Trance Hit, this track would have been their blueprint. Corsten rhythms? Check. van Dyk pre-sets (the other overused pre-set)? Check. Harmonizing basslines and melodies? Check. By the numbers breakdowns, builds, echo, reverb and pad effects? Check. A unique melody featured after the main elements have played out for a bit to make this track your own? Check.

Still, it isn't really all that bad. As The KLF proved, you can have fun music even in templates, and Alt + F4 is a fun tune thanks to the one unique element on hand, a twinkling little melody at the peak of the song that you really can't take seriously. Which is a good thing, as the next track is about as silly as it gets.

My God, but is that ever a horrid sound! What on earth is that playing, a vocodered accordion? Haha, it’s great! Benjamin Bates' Whole is the perfect antidote in case you felt Alt + F4 was too cliché, as it seems the true sound of trance has gone on to include Discovery era Daft Punk styled house music. Yeah, it's a stupid song, but comes out on here so unrepentantly, Whole sounds pure genius.

A Trip In Trance 4 has already given me some startling surprises, and things just keep getting better as we again move into completely different territory with Jan Gustafsson's True Fiction. If I was ever to refer to a song as epic, this is definitely one. To me, something epic has to be energetic and adventurous without crossing that line into over-the-top theatrics. True Fiction strikes that perfect balance with an invigorating riff, spacey pads, driving rhythm and just enough reverb to give it a grand feeling.

Onto something completely different again now, as the true sound of trance also includes darkwave with a dance beat. Ernesto and Bastian's Dark Side Of The Moon has more melodrama than any trance track than I've heard but then that's always been the draw of darkwave. This is so incredibly over-the-top, though, it actually works. Okay, so Dark Side Of The Moon is about as gothic as an Evanescence song, but it's also another fun track on this compilation that continues to show how diverse this music can get. Can't complain there.

I can complain on this next track, though. I was afraid of this but, given how much fun A Trip In Trance 4 had been up to this point, I'd held out some hope the diversity would continue. Instead, we get a weak Silence imitation with Kyau and Albert's remix of Sherrie Lea's No Ordinary Love. Despite all the fancy little effects, pads, and reverb thrown about to try and give the song substance, the energy in the compilation is drained nearly to nothing. This song is just far too boring with no vibe at all. Sure, Lea does a competent Dido impression here, but Kyau and Albert's material is limper than soggy noodles. This tends to happen, though, when you follow up songs with good rhythms with weaker ones.

From here, the compilation never regains the spontaneity that was so effective on the first half. There are some decent tracks to be had but for a long stretch, nothing seems to regain the energy lost from No Ordinary Love. The wall of arpeggiating reverb in Sandler's Theme Song can't manage it. The Passion of Christ-theme sampling Passion from Hemstock & Jennings can't manage it (does this track remind anyone else of Gouryella, though?). And the two stuttering supersaw anthems in Pulsar and Daybreaker don't manage it, either, although Precursor's track does pull a valiant effort. There's just not enough attention paid to creating energy in the rhythm, figuring all the arpeggiating melodies and reverb will do the trick instead. Maybe if these were the only types of tracks on here, it would work, but we had a long string of songs doing rhythm right to start out and this last batch just can't compete as a result.

For the climax of this release, Rank 1 decide to give their own release of Beats @ Rank 1 Dotcom the special treatment, more or less mixing it in from the very beginning of the intro percussion. This track builds up the rhythms for quite a while, capping off with a little ode to The O.T. Quartet's (Rollo) Hold That Sucker Down before the breakdown. Maybe.

Anyhow, this track is actually quite interesting. Sure, there's a lot of downtime as they build up the tension for their big riff. However, they pull a nifty little delay trick with the reverb on their main hook, spicing up the usual templates far more than the last five tracks managed to do between them all. It marks a return to the reckless approach to trance that was so apparent in the first half, and I'm actually quite intrigued in this compilation again. It's just a shame this comes right at the end, but Piet finishes out with a wonderful little growling slice of techno from Jesselyn to take us out.

And that, my friends, is the true sound of trance to me. Not supersaws, or reverb, or pads, or loops, or acid specifically, but the willingness to experiment with those attributes. As easily as Rank 1 could have just used a standard synth for Beats, they instead tried something unconventional with the reverb trick, and the songs much better for it. Sometimes such experiments fail but the results are always far more memorable than the same ol'.

For a domestic release, A Trip In Trance 4 has its fair share of eccentric takes on your usual trance templates (aside from Alt + F4 of course, but I wonder if this track is actually a piss-take), but the more commercial aspects of it will probably turn away those wanting underground material. Still, despite that tedious stretch of flat-lined momentum near the end, the mainstream audience will undoubtedly get a kick out of this. Just remember to turn your surround sound off before you play it.

Score: 7/10

Jan Gustafsson - True Fiction
Rank 1 - Beats @ Rank 1 Dotcom

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

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