As the man behind the decks for the Global DJ Broadcast, an internationally syndicated weekly radio show, Markus Schulz is easily one of the biggest American exports for modern dance music. Between his radio presence and his remix work (Depeche Mode, Madonna are nice calling cards to have, and working with Gabriel & Dresden on both tracks and remixes doesn’t hurt either), Markus is a very busy man.
Over the past couple of years, Markus Schulz has quickly made a name for himself on the DJ circuit. His Coldharbour Sessions mix quickly earned him considerable attention as a talent to watch, and his Global DJ stint solidified the deal. His sound tends to have a foundation in trance, yet leaning more towards a darker, more progressive bent. Ultimately, he has successfully incorporated various styles into his own. On any given week, you are bound to hear some trance, some progressive, some house, some breaks… and it’s all so well put together that you won’t bat an eye, and just accept that everything was supposed to go together that way from the beginning.
Basically everything that I’ve heard by him has had such a clear stamp of quality to it that I was excited to hear about his debut artist album. Unfortunately, I may have set my expectations unrealistically high. Before I begin, I would like to go ahead and spill the beans that this is a quality release and a strong debut artist/producer album. However, it is just shy of the bar set by his other work. I expected to land in Paris, but stepped off the plane in Dallas.
Without You Near is the debut release of all-original material from Markus and represents two years of work, while in and out of the studio in amidst his many other responsibilities. To help round things out, he also gets some help from heavyweight trance friends Airwave (a personal fave) and Gabriel & Dresden. The album skews a bit more vocal than I was expecting, with 9 of the 13 tracks featuring some guest vocals, most notably with Anita Kelsey and Carrie Skipper each contributing to two tracks.
The disc begins appropriately enough with his club hit “Clear Blue.” The song is stellar and a strong opener, but it’s dampened by the fact that it’s quite an edit from the original (only three and a half minutes) that tends to serves as more of intro vibe than anything else. It’s also important to note that this is the instrumental version, and not the vocal rework that you may have heard. Overall, a strong but ultimately disappointing beginning. The album then works into “Arial” which is a nice enough track, if not overly interesting. The song “First Time” follows, and although not a favorite of mine, it has garnered quite a bit of spins, so… well, there you go.
From this point on, the album really picks up some steam. The title track “Without You Near” kicks in and is just a quality tune, really nice. It’s been making the rounds quite a bit, but if you haven’t heard it you should do yourself the favor of checking it out. The divas take up residence next, with “Once Again”, “You Won’t See Me Cry” and the nicely chilled respite of “Never Be The Same”.
Markus then takes a light melodic breaks turn with “Red Eye To Miami” (nicely done track) before working into his collaboration with Airwave, “Ballymena”. Although I’m a fan of both gentlemen, the collaboration feels a bit under the potential of either. It’s a good track, but not a great track. Overall, that’s my impression with a lot of the album. It’s solid, but…
Part of the problem I have with this record is that it’s mixed. There’s nothing wrong with a good mix (obviously. I mean, come on, we’re talking DJs here) but in the context of an artist album it feels a bit forced. Part of the reason goes to the point that artist albums generally try to display a fair amount of variety to tracks, which doesn’t always leand itself to easy mixing. Such is the case here. Although the mixing certainly isn’t bad, it does have a “well I guess I should mix this thing or something since I’m a DJ and all” vibe to it. It’s unnecessary and I wish the tracks had been left as is.
The last chapter of the album wraps together a few more vocal numbers, all of which are quite nice. “Peaches And Cream”, although an awkward lyric, is well-done musically, and is followed by two of the stronger vocal numbers on the album, “Travelling Light” and “Sorrow Has No Home”. The album then wraps up with a much more chilled version of the title, “Without You Near.”
Although I’ve been a bit harder on parts of the album than I might normally have been, it’s mainly because Markus has demonstrated a clear talent for production and mixing that is not always fully realized on this, his first artist album. Nothing is to a point of distraction, so please don’t let that prevent you from checking out this album, as there is a lot to like. I only wish that (1) it had included a full version of “Clear Blue”, as it’s a standout track; (2) been unmixed, as it’s often unnecessary at best, and forced at worst; (3) included a bit different mixing order (the last three tracks all sound like they’re trying to end the album… until you get to the next track).
In summary, Without You Near is, despite my small list of complaints, a quite enjoyable release. The more I listen, the less some of the problems bother me and the more certain tracks grab my attention. It’s not monumental, but it is a strong album and I anxiously await the next chapter from Markus. Here’s hoping he keeps pumping weekly love, whether dark, melodic or thumping, through the airwaves.