Noel Sanger: Ritual


By Matthew Kent-Stoll

Somewhere out there in the great, big world, there are some people who just can’t get enough of trance, and who need one more freakin’ mix CD of the stuff. And if you happen to be one of those folks, Ritual may do you right. But if you aren’t a big trance-head, move on. This is not to say that this is a bad CD or anything, it just feels so . . . done. Certainly, you could find a lot worse, but Ritual isn’t exactly an eye-opening (ear-opening?) experience either. Salty veteran of the turntables Noel Sanger presents a competent body of work, but nothing particularly mind-blowing or innovative. It’s one track after another of banging, four-to-the-floor trance, which might be cool on the dance floor, but becomes dull rather quickly as a home listening (or car listening . . . basically anything that doesn’t entail shaking one’s groove-thang) experience.

The mixing is solid enough, but nothing really jumps out about Sanger’s technique. It’s basically all standard beat-matching between four-to-the-floor dance tracks. Granted, that’s tougher than a lot of people think, but it’s the sort of mixing you could expect to hear from a DJ at any halfway decent club. Once you’ve heard a few transitions, you pretty much know how the mix is going to sound. Sanger doesn’t mangle any of the tracks, but he doesn’t really enhance them in any way, either. Although Ritual can become rather predictable, Sanger does offer up some quality selections. He starts strong with Spanish Archer vs. Tilt’s banging yet dreamy “Beautiful Inside” (try to spot the Wu-Tang sample), then moves onto the floaty, breezy synths of Deep Cover’s “Beatstalker” and PFN vs. The Light’s remix of Memmon’s “Desire”. This jumps out as possibly Ritual’s tightest track. It breaks down with a creepy filtered vocal, then smacks the listener upside the head with a red alert wah synth that is more than a little reminiscent of Chemical Brothers. After that, there’s Hybrid’s remix of BT’s “Never Gonna Come Back Down”, which is of course The Big Name Track that every mix CD must offer. Hybrid does some pretty tricked-out effects on the vocals, but somehow M. Doughty’s singing becomes even more grating than usual (and this is coming from a huge Soul Coughing fan, folks) when placed over stripped-down, four-to-the-floor beats.

But then, right when you expect the mix to kick into overdrive, it loses momentum as Ritual settles into a series of lesser selections. Unfortunately, Sanger has jammed most of his best tracks into the front end of Ritual, which makes the rest of the CD something of a letdown. Most of the highs and lows in energy come early in the mix, and the remainder of Ritual becomes a forgettable middle ground. Tracks like Ritmo vs. Submission’s remix of Incisions’ “Amorak” and Sanger’s own “Dissident” offer up some nice ear candy, but don’t leave much of an impression.

With their standard beats and weak atmospherics, Planet Heaven’s “Firefly” and Brancaccio and Aisher’s “Fracture” leave one feeling bludgeoned rather than put in a trance. None of these tracks stink or anything, but they do tend to lose one’s attention. The only real downer of a selection is JP and Taylor’s “Digital Discourse”, with its cheesy affirmative rave vocals (“Believe in yourself . . . imagine”, etc.), and strangely awkward rhythm programming. Despite a couple of missteps, Sanger does close strong with Joshua Ryan’s remix of Filip Skrapitch’s “Ksaut” and Westbrook Project’s “No Greater Love”, which manages to kick ass even with Nicole Henry’s diva vocals ratcheting up the cheese factor a few notches.

Ritual is a solid enough mix, but it doesn’t jump out in any way from the zillions of other mix CDs on the market. It’s a mix that just sort of settles in comfortably, finds a niche, and sticks with it. Which is OK at first, but after awhile you start wishing that Sanger would take a chance and go out on a limb with one of his selections. Once you’ve heard the first few tracks, you’ve pretty much heard Ritual. The strong opening sets you up for an exciting journey, but Sanger leaves you holding your suitcase at the terminal.

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