World famous German-born DJ and producer Paul van Dyk is back after four years with his fifth proper album, the just-released CD In Between, and his first studio output since being nominated for a Grammy (2005) for his last album Reflections.
While some fans and critics, fairly or unfairly, dissed that album's (car) commercial appeal – it even featured a guest rapper, a la Paul Oakenfold's "Starry-Eyed Surprise" – and for being both trendy and behind the times, this new release is an almost back-to-basics trance album. Almost.
For those who still enjoy the idea of physically buying CDs, this album flows as a continuous mix CD – unless you order it digitally, which comes unmixed. That works for the care-free listener, one with a long-term attention span. And In Between is indeed long, running nearly seventy-eight minutes total. But it could have been even longer and perhaps marketed as a double album if PVD wanted, because he wrote twenty-eight songs over three years for the In Between project. Instead, he settled on the current set of tracks, plus a bonus track called "Next Generation" that was offered only on pre-orders of the album on iTunes.
The first single, "White Lies," features personal, yet catchy and confident vocals from one Jessica Sutta of the Pussycat Dolls and is already heating up the charts, having landed at the #8 spot on Billboard's Hot Dance Airplay chart. Its heavy, thumping beats and synths, and the very pretty, reverb-heavy, harp-fueled and twinkle star melodies, during extensive breakdowns and elsewhere, characterize this standout track, even if it's van Dyk's latest and not so subtle attempt to crossover into today's dance pop phenomenon.
Not that it's a bad thing, of course, but unlike some past attempts, this performance will most likely gin up more praise than cries of sellout or blatant trend follower, which would be the ultimate insult for this electronic music pioneer. Part of PVD's genius as a producer this time around is to take new sounds and material not heard before on previous albums and use them to modernize trance and keep it sounding fresh, even while crossing the roads of familiar genres every now and then.
For people who like to be entertained for short lengths of time, about two-thirds of the seventeen tracks are under five minutes, including most of the poppier and sure-to-be hit singles which, depending on which track, incorporate elements of everything from electro-house ("White Lies") to a 'lil rock guitar.
Other highlights include lead-off track (and personal favorite) "Haunted," which features the angelic vocals of Lo-Fi Sugar singing over calm, swelling synths and light, electronic beats, and "Let Go," which was co-written by Rea Garvey of popular (at least in Europe) German rock band Reamonn. Reminiscent of the under-appreciated Junkie XL, it not only includes a bit of distorted electric guitar but actual drums as well, and Garvey's vocals even get Bono-ish at times during the song.
Van Dyk's long, progressive trance tracks on In Between, like the shorter, poppier songs are multi-layered with all kinds of effects, electronic sounds, and other instruments. But the long ones are arguably the heart of the disc: songs like "Another Sunday" (which samples Probspot's "Blows My Mind") and "Complicated," one of three tracks featuring the beautiful voice of singer/songwriter Ashley Tomberlin.
Not every song and collaborative effort churns out a memorable tune, however. The Wayne Jackson-led "Stormy Skies" fails to make an impression and is just too gloomy for the liking. But lapses of good songwriting don't last long. Piano flourishes highlight mid-album instrumental "In Circles," while live strings – conducted by Dietmar Menzinger – and the Talking Heads' David Byrne's never-aging vocals on "Fall With Me" end the long player on a high note.
In all, In Between has some memorable moments and instant classics, and enough other well-written material to qualify this album as a winner, and the first clear-cut one since 2000's Out There And Back, which is also perhaps its closest comparison as well. IB isn't an instant classic itself or trend setter, but then again, it ain't easy to make one in a genre that is arguably long past its prime and that he had helped define and shape in the 1990s. But one of the world's best DJ's has managed to pull off a mildly impressive, if slightly flawed trance record…in the year 2007. That is a success in and of itself.