[4 August 2004]
What’s in a name, eh? Trance. A short, unevocative word for a musical genre. Feasible connotations: metronomic repetition, mindlessness, a blankness in the memory, an emptiness. Not the most inviting of monikers. Names are very important when it comes to instrumental music, for the simple reason that, as there is no way to puzzle out just what the artist is trying to articulate or capture (if anything) by passive consumption of the medium, our consciousness needs tools or cues in order to place it into a framework of other experiences; handles by which the composition can be removed from the foreign, creative abstract and slotted into the lattice of the other senses and subjective memory. Obviously, music will sometimes prompt highly personal and vivid sensation in the listener from the moment it is first experienced, whether or not that listener is aware of what the composition means to the artist. And any music that has personal history will have accrued ‘real world’ connotations, even if they’re only based around where he or she was when they listened to it.
Bet you people would take Beethoven’s Sixth a lot less seriously if he’d called it Dreams After Too Much Cheese, though.
Trance, then, might actually be spectacularly well named, because (on the evidence of this album at least) it has virtually no distinguishing features at all. Nothing really comes to mind when listening to All or Nothing apart from the occasional suggestion that it might make good high-speed driving music, ie. rhythmic backdrop to a high-concentration, minimum-thought activity. I’m pretty sure that’s just a result of too many unimaginative Hollywood chase scene soundtracks, though. If anything, the music actually drains thought—I had to turn my Discman off and get blood flowing through my brain again by pacing up and down for several minutes before I could actually recall the Sixth’s distinctive motif, for example. That was quite scary.
Trance enthusiasts might well suggest that this music is slick, pounding and well-produced, and that I’m simply generalising about trance because I don’t “understand” or enjoy the genre. Heck, it’s made by Christopher Lawrence, whom LA Weekly described as being “to the States what Paul Oakenfold is to the UK”; I should darn well show some respect. Newsflash, people: Paul Oakenfold’s last album was total garbage. And whilst I may not listen to trance much, I do listen to (and love) a lot of pounding, repetitive, well-produced dance music. And none, but none of it, is as empty and constrictive as this.
Yes, Christopher Lawrence’s basslines are deep and full, but they don’t do anything, and that’s a complaint coming from a self-professed bass addict. They just repeat themselves vaguely until the track fades out, much like all the other track components, allowing for the odd breakdown or beat switch. Yes, the higher tempo tracks have a relentless energy too them, but then so has a pneumatic drill. Everything is mechanical, and I don’t mean that in a Kraftwerk/Bauhaus, gleaming-effective-minimalism way either, just that there’s not an ounce of imagination of display. This is probably the most personality-free record I’ve ever heard, not so much composed as assembled.
Coming full circle with the nomenclature thing, his track titles only make Lawrence’s imagination deficiency more glaring: “Freefall”, “Hot Rod”, “Nitro”, “Renegade”, “Rush Hour”... it’s the dropped cast of Transformers, isn’t it? There’s a track called “Mind Eraser”, which is accurate for all the wrong reasons, and—get this—an “Untitled Dub With Noises”. Grief. Still, I suppose I can’t complain that I wasn’t warned.
Perhaps I’m being unduly unkind, but then he’s the one who chose such a portentous title. In fact, even totally overblown Wagnerian dramatics would have done these dry, impersonal tracks a world of good. This remains identikit trance that could have been made by anyone any time in the last decade or so, and needs be heard by no-one. Heck, he could have called it “Rose”; Ice Cold and Shakespeare would still agree it was dung.