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Music Review: Above & Beyond – Trance Nation

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Trance Nation – the long-time trance imprint for the Ministry of Sound label – has been collecting dust for the past few years. Trance itself has largely chugged right along, but the Trance Nation series all but died when it over-reached itself and tried to become Harder, Deeper and farther from how it started.

In the early days it was championed by Ferry Corsten. As the years have progressed, trance music has fallen under new management, namely that of Armin Van Buuren and Above & Beyond. The latter, especially, have proven their cross-appeal as DJs, artists and label heads for both the Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep labels. So it seems only reasonable that if the Trance Nation series can be resurrected, its best chance is to entrust it to the current leaders of the scene.

Although no strangers to mix compilations, Above & Beyond’s usual working ground of the Anjunabeats series displays an obvious nod towards nepotism in the selection of tunes. The trick for Trance Nation is to extend that same parental care to the rest of the current offerings in the trance circuit.

Their weekly “Trance Around The World” radio show and podcast give some hint as to what that can be, although the obvious lack of flow in a radio show allows for more experimentation without it devolving into a stylistic train wreck. Proper mix albums need a bit more care and attention. So let’s see how they do here.

Disc One is the more eclectic of the two, dabbling in the group’s signature brand of euphoric trance while also making stops for straight-up electro and some progressive breaks. A remix of Passenger 10’s “Mikado” opens things up in familiar Above & Beyond territory. A lush rise of synth pads breaks the dawn and steadily ushers in a pulse to follow for the next hour-plus.

Marco V’s “Unprepared” is the first sign that we should probably expect a few detours, as the robotic vocals help deliver an electro-trance cut that is left of center. For the most part it works, but marks an eclecticism usually found in the group’s radio show, as opposed to their slickly focused Anjunabeats series.

Progressive rears its head a few times during this half, first with the surprisingly minimal “Santiago” by Stoneface & Terminal. And later Josh Gabriel’s new moniker Winter Kills injects just a hint of progressive house into “Deep Down.”

Another interesting point about this set is how Above & Beyond have minimized the use of their own output. With the exception of a remix from OceanLab – their side project with vocalist Justine Suissa – on each disc, they step back and represent what’s going on in the rest of the trance scene.

But things never stray too far from Above & Beyond’s trance M.O., and by the end of the first half we are firmly back in familiar territory. Markus Schulz’s remix of Cosmic Gate’s “Sign Of The Times” leads the charge to the end with a solid reworking that delivers both on energy and style.

Matan Zohar’s “First Glance” centers things back on melody, with a gorgeous piano breakdown that sets this track apart. The JPL mix of Carl B & Static Blue’s “Sunstruck” manages to wind things down just enough, thanks to a balearic guitar line that transitions through both the buildups and breakdowns of this excellent tune.

Mat Zo starts things off on Disc Two with “24 Hours,” a driving lead that seamlessly weaves its way into the majestic “Stadium Four” by Lange and Andy Moor, a combo that would light up any club floor.

Ronski Speed’s “Are You” follows, and it is quickly becoming a staple in the usual circles, and for good reason. Likewise, Gareth Emery’s “Exposure” combines classic trance form (and sound) with an updated energy quotient. In fact, the vast majority of this disc plays like what we would more expect from Above & Beyond, with solid tracks in symbiotic styles taking us from beginning to end.

There are some slight missteps on the release. Trance’s bad habit of reworking cuts that are better left alone can be found here with yet another version of the old standby “Seven Days and One Week,” while Mike Koglin really should have known better than to trance-up Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence.” Had these been left off, all boats would have risen, but as it is they can be overlooked as unfortunate speed bumps.

This new Trance Nation release offers a much-needed “back to basics” approach for the series. Above & Beyond excel at picking out the cream of the electronic scene. Their label-honcho sensibilities have them naturally reaching for tracks that work as music first, as well as for club fodder.

Although there are some detours from their normal template, the end result is an ultra-solid trance offering, albeit not the most representative of Above & Beyond. Those with an eye towards the gems that lie just underneath the surface in the scene, and have a healthy breadth to their tastes, will find an excellent set here.

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About David R Perry

  • Milly Roe

    Really excellent read. I recently discovered Anjunabeats and Above & Beyond and was blown away by the way they are pushing the dance scene forward. They have a fantastic youtube channel which gives a great insight to their tours.