Music

Paul van Dyk: Reflections

Alison Wong

Paul Van Dyk

Reflections

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2003-10-07
UK Release Date: 2003-10-20
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We have just waited three years for the release of Paul van Dyk's latest album, Reflections. I feel strongly about using this statement as my opening for this review. Three years is a long time for any artist and, for the ones who are known to be groundbreakers, three years can equate to a lifetime's worth of work to others. I have heard people say that they don't like what van Dyk has done on this album because "it doesn't sound like van Dyk" (now there's an argument if ever I heard one), but to that my answer would be that I would be disappointed if it did. After all, isn't he is revered for his forward-thinking attitude? Ah, the irony. That said, let's take a look at what he's done.

This new album is different and there's no denying it. There are but remnants left from the early techno days and paradigmatic club sets. There are noticeably fewer club mixes and, where you would potentially expect one, instead there is a more contemplative and chilled version. Probably the biggest change worth pointing out is that this album mirrors, more than any of the previous three, the inner voice of van Dyk. From "Like a Friend", derived from the poverty he witnessed whilst on a tour of India, to "Time of Our Lives", about living together in harmony, these personal statements are reflected in music that is introspective with more of an edge to it.

The opening track, "Crush", opens a lot like Underworld's "Born Slippy" with its slow and eerie, watery ambient sound created by synthesizers. The structure of the track is a tried and tested one: an epic build up that develops as the opening beats suck you into a trance while the foreplay melody holds back and sits on the explosive power kick for a good five minutes into the track. The tension swells and just when van Dyk knows you can't take it anymore, the lyrics "I know you want me" unleash like water bursting through a dam and the track shifts into high gear. Formulaic, yes, but who doesn't fall for it every time?

"Time of Our Lives" is a joint collaboration between van Dyk and British rock band Vega-4. It's heavy on the vocals, but even with the tasteful remix in the background, it's more than a stone's throw from what you'd expect. The result is altogether more like pop music trying to sound chilled. Johnny McDaid's (from Vega-4) voice bears a striking resemblance to Robbie Williams, and this track actually sounds more like something Williams would come up with on an inspired day. The lyrics seem to be implying that, in light of recent events, we must seize the moment ("Oh this is the time / Of our lives") and try to change the world to make it a better place. Deep stuff; it's a shame about the lightweight music. "Like a Friend" spins out in the opposite direction. Taking female vocals as the central focus this time, the ambience is meditative with pulsing, muted beats. It's the perfect setting for Jan Johnston's earthy vocals, matching the lyrics, "Be aware of the world and be true to your conscience / Be aware of its need like a friend you can hold", that message van Dyk's reaction to poverty in India.

The middle section of the album contains a mix of tracks of varying styles and standards. "Nothing But You" is vintage van Dyk, consisting of superior remix quality music with heavy beats and stirring Norwegian lyrics. "Buenaventura", taken from his original score for the movie Zurdo and again featuring vocals from Jan Johnston, though energetic enough, consists of pulsating house music that lacks substance, with equally thin lyrics: "There's only you I could love / Forever / That's why I'm so lonely in a crowd / And all I think about / Is coming home to you".

The album winds up to a crescendo of a finish. "Knowledge" is easily the most experimental of all the tracks, a collaborative effort with hip-hop artist DJ Tomekk that's impressive in its efforts and results. The rhythmic rapping is intricately woven into a heavy bass line and topped with short, synthesized melodic statements. The track segues into "That's Life", a bottom-heavy track that fares less well in the remix treatment. The unimaginative melody is no match for the thumping bass line and overall there is a lack of direction. Fast-paced, energetic, cohesive, and with vocals by Johnston, the remaining two tracks, "Spellbound" and "Kaleidoscope", are amongst the best to round out the album.

There has been some heavy-duty Moby-style marketing surrounding the release of this album. This will undoubtedly become known to the masses as the one with the track (that would be "Connected") from the cell phone (that would be Motorola) commercial. For those unfamiliar with his work, Reflections is an accessible starting point housing some of his best and most progressive work to date. Across the album the quality of the music is not overly consistent, but none of it is comes close to being bad. Where it's good, it's fantastic.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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