Posted by: soccernamlak | February 15, 2013

Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance 2013 Compilation Review

Welcome everyone to 2013!  We’ve got what seems to be a great year of trance ahead of us.  Anjunabeats will be releasing their 10th volume this coming March.  Markus Schulz will be presenting us with his 8th installment in his City Series.  We’ll potentially have the 11th installment of In Search of Sunrise and maybe even a 2nd installment of Eco’s Constellations in You.  I’m also hoping for another Pure Trance compilation from Solarstone and Orkidea.   Artist wise, we’ll see albums from BT and Armin van Buuren.  If you’re into the trance/trouse/house/dubstep/experimental fusion, Andrew Bayer will be releasing his 2nd album this year as well as a new Mat Zo album.  We’ll even hear new singles from Above & Beyond (with a possible artist album late this year). J00F, and John O’Callaghan.  We’ll see upcoming artists make it big (like VilliaNaranjos), while hit artists continue to tweak their style (like Bryan Kearny).  And maybe a few artists continue to repeat their styles that continue to get them hit after hit (like Ashley Wallbridge and Andrew Rayel).  I anticipate big tunes in all departments this year, from commercial to tech, from progressive to uplifting, from deep to tech.

But this year, our love for trance has progressed in the romantic area, as today, Valentine’s Day, Armin gives us something in return: A State of Trance 2013.  For those that have been keeping up with trance for years, you’ll note that this is the big 10 year anniversary of ASOT Compilations, beginning in 2004 and, some would argue, reaching it’s peak either around 2006-2007 or even 2010-2011.  Regardless, this year ASOT 2013 beat out 2012 (again) on being the earliest the compilation has ever been released.  For those keeping track, ASOT 2012 was released March 1st, 2012.  It coincides, perfectly of course, with the 600th episode of A State of Trance Radio Show.

While it coincides, it isn’t coincidental.  Armin seems to be using ASOT 2013 as the jumping off point for new 2013 tunes, which will no doubt be played to death during the ASOT 600 events which run for over a month and a half.  As a side note, I get that these events are fun, but they keep growing every year in size and number.  I have no doubt that by the time we get to ASOT 1000 that it will be a full year of events and concerts, at which point Armin will have CDJs-5000s (brand new model in 2015 with the brand-new “Super Sync and Play” button: select your style of set and/or songs, push the button, and it mixes a crazy 2 hours without you doing anything!) permanently implanted on his hands.

Anyway, I stated last year that doing this presents a bit of a juggling act for Armin.  This year I’d argue it is even worse.  Between December and February, he’s released ASOT Yearmix 2012.  He’s been working on his Artist album.  He’s been planning and setting up ASOT 600.  Weekly radio shows.  2nd child announcement and no doubt preparation for that, along with taking care of his wife and 1st child.  Add in whatever else he has on his schedule (personal, interviews, events, etc.), and you see what could be an extremely active and busy man.  Now through in a 2013 compilation.  I asked last year (with similar, but looking back on it now, less extreme circumstances) if this would impact the quality of ASOT compared to just waiting until, say, May to release it?

Well, we saw a hit or miss with some songs in ASOT 2012, but I thought it was a better effort than Universal Religion 6.  ASOT 2012 clocked in at a 7.5/10 in my prior review, having some excellent transitions and an overall good song selection, with some choices leaving me a bit perplexed.  So how does ASOT 2013 stack up? Trance has changed so much in 10 years, is it even worth reviewing anymore? (Spoilers: yes.  At least it makes a better case than Anjunabeats Volume 10.)

I listen to these compilations for better or worse, as this compilation no doubt has tunes that define the mainstream trance genre for the rest of the year.  These songs will be on air for the next 3 months and will likely populate some of the spots in every Top 20 Trance list at the end of the year.  Historically with ASOT, it’s been hit or misses for the compilations for me.  2012 was a decent compilation.  Perhaps not Armin’s best work, but we had excellent tunes from VillaNaranjos, The Blizzard, Mike Foyle, Wiegel Meirmans Snitker, and of course Andrew Rayel.  Looking over the tracklist this year, we’ve got the potential for a good release in the series, with a new BT(!), new Blizzard, new Ana Criado, and yes, back to our friend Andrew Rayel, who, for better or worse, dominated ASOT with tunes and remixes last year.

Also, we’ve got a different style cover! After last year’s….interesting, let’s say, choice, we get something a bit more late 2000’s-ish, but in color.  Granted, it’s a bench.  And some jeans.  And black shoes.  Let’s call it unique and move on.

As usual, Armin’s compilations are a mix of many unreleased tracks with a handful of either released or already played tracks.  Now while I purposely avoided ASOT 599 (The ASOT 2013 Special Episode), I still estimate that in some form or another I’ve heard about 5 songs already from CD1 and about 4 songs from CD2.  On the plus side, those 9 songs fit perfectly in my mind on the CD they were assigned.  No (hopefully) On The Beach intro disaster with “The Fusion” like last year.  But 9/33 songs means plenty of new tunes, so I’m a bit more excited this year to listen to ASOT 2013 than last year.

Enough with me rambling.  Let’s get to what you came here for.  I will offer my thoughts on each CD separately, the compilation as a whole, and final concluding thoughts as always.

So, let’s go On the Beach with CD1:

1. Armin van Buuren vs Arty – Nehalennia (7/10)

Last year, we got the disaster of an intro that was Omnia’s “The Fusion.”  Throwing a clear “In The Club” song not only on the first CD, but as the intro?  Bad mix decision.  Did not even come close to some of the beauties we had open for us in the past (Interstate, Mark Otten, Triple A, Jaren).

So what about this new track between Arty and Armin?  Well, there’s no “Intro Mix” if you will.  Don’t expect a soaring set of strings to glide you for 2 minutes into the beach setting.  Nope, we start with the basic drum, building with snares, and within 50 seconds to the main harking synth heard for the rest of the song.  I guess in that regards it’s less memorable than some prior intros; on the other hand, it does get the job done.  It’s also suited for the beach and fits nicely in with this ongoing theme of CD1 the past (almost) 10 years.
The track itself highlights some of Arty’s new sounds, which is a fancy way of saying it’s his older works (Kate, Rush) mashed with his newer works (Trio, Open Space).  But I definitely appreciate his move away from the Electro world and back into the “Trance” category on  It’s no “Wonder” (my favorite from him), but it’s a step in the right direction.  On this track, though, we mainly hear the backing influences from Arty.  The breakdown seems to be Armin’s standard bag of tricks.  It’s follows the current style of trance: a breakdown that isn’t highlighted anymore by power and grandeur (a la Dutch Trance of the early 2000s), but becoming perhaps a bit more minimalistic, in this case even keeping a backing drum beat.  While trance, I don’t think, will ever go back to the early 90’s style (long movements where the release of tension is 30 minutes away, and even then for 15 seconds), it’s interesting to see that the biggest criticism that many had about trance in the 2000s (the “who can hold their hands up for the longest” type “look at me” breakdowns) has, sort of ironically, been ‘fixed’ by the one thing that has haunted trance the past few years: electro and progressive house (which don’t necessarily have those euphoric breakdowns).

Anyway, I have more rambling on that later.  Back to the song.  Out of the breakdown comes the weak part of the song: that synth…spin up? I guess that’s what you could call it.  Seems a bit out of place and sort of hampers an otherwise pleasant melody.  Especially the backing piano.  It’s not overpowering, but makes its presence known throughout the song.  The synth, on the other hand, I’m split on it.  It’s not unpleasant sounding, but its missing something.  Or it just sounds a bit off.  Still, though, while I don’t think it’ll be Top 5 material for most radio shows at the end of the year, it still might make a small splash.  We get a sharp cut-off at the end of our 16 bars to

2. Omnia – The Light (7/10)

It was a weird transition here, I’ll admit.  This sort of pains me, because I thought that after UR6’s misses with transitions Armin would have corrected it in a studio mix, but it seems that the days of long transitions are over; the era of instant gratification and switching to the next beat reign free.  But to Omnia! They had one of the biggest, if not overplayed, tracks last year with “The Fusion.”  They made a similar sounding follow-up on Coldharbour later called “Infina.”  They also made a quite-striking song with Ana Criado, “No One Home.”
So the million-dollar question: did they create an anthem for the next 3 months, the follow-up on ASOT to their record-setting* single from ASOT 2012?  Well….not exactly.
Our initial build-up is typical Omnia sounding.  They’ve got a signature synth sound, and you can definitely hear it as we slowly ascend into our main beat.  The climax is reached.  The music goes soft.  Our main synth kicks in.  It seems to be a darker, perhaps dirtier, tweak to the sounds they’ve employed in the past year.  The drum beat is nothing special, nor is the backing strings. Your standard snare work well at play here.  Our breakdown is less breakdown and more softening of the backing drums.  But while the melody is sort of catchy, the song is more Infina rather than Fusion: yeah, I’ll dance to it because the DJ is playing it, but it’s as forgettable as the 4th-place finisher in the Olympic’s 100-meter.  If “The Fusion” is Jiro’s hand-crafted sushi, then “The Light” is like Trader Joe’s California Roll: it’ll satisfy you for the moment, but you aren’t craving it the next day.

Also Armin, can we have some beach tunes? We had a beautiful VillaNaranjos second song in last year.  At least try to save some 135 for the club.

*I’m making stuff up here.


3. BT – Skylarking (10/10)

Our transition was quick, but actually nice here.  I like how the synth from Omnia sort of rocked itself out back and forth.  Now, BT.  The legendary electronic producer.  Last year he released not 1, not 2, but 3 different albums.  A crazy-fueled blend of all electronic genres in his “Laptop Symphony Compilation,” an interesting follow-up to “This Binary Universe” by the way of “If The Stars Are Eternal So Are You And I,” and an experimental classical-influenced album “Nuovo Morceau Subrosa.”  There was a fourth album rumored for last fall of 2012, the dance follow-up to “These Hopeful Machine,” but while delayed, I think we can safely assume that this is the second single from the album (following “Must Be The Love” with Arty and Nadia Ali).
As we initially progress into the song, the first thing you notice is it’s calming and smooth.  It’s perhaps less BT-ish and more…Mike Foyle-ish? Or maybe BT has been giving us experimental stuff for so long now that we’ve forgotten what he can really accomplish when he sets out to create beautiful progressive trance.
But it’s absolutely sublime in the buildup.  And as we approach the breakdown, we start to hear that classic BT mixed with the new style.  This song is worthy of it’s “On The Beach” status.  The faded roll of the drums in the back.  The classic stutter-edit.  The long reflection leading up to the calling synths.  The main beat.  BT knows how to combine an array of synths, random bits of sounds, a superb drum kit, and his touch all into one breathtaking package.  Because that’s exactly what this song does: sends you to another world, where for 4 minutes one exists outside of time itself.  In short, it accomplishes the very goal of the original trance pioneers.  To say that I am mere excited for BT’s upcoming album (or even this as a full single for that matter) is an understatement.


4. Hazem Beltagui & Allan V. – We Are (9.5/10)

A nice soft transition into this duo.  I actually enjoy artists like this, because while Hazem, for instance, has released songs on a label I’ve followed somewhat in the past (Macarize), none of his prior works stand out to me at first glance.  Allan V. is in the same boat with the same prior label.  But this track, however, is being released on Red Soho.  A bit more prestigious, but will the track live up to the label reputation?

We have a quick intro breakdown at the beginning of the song: a soothing piano.  A soft vocal hit (male) as our drums pick up.  It’s difficult to follow up to a masterpiece such as Skylarking, but boy does this duo know their way around Abelton.  For the first minute, it’s almost a stretch to call this trance, because it’s lacking some of the classical elements: synths, for example.  For the most part, it’s been just a light male vocal backing (indistinguishable notes), a basic drum beat, and a repetitive but beautiful piano.  The breakdown, one where the vocal is now more pronounced, leads us to a pulsating vocal.

At first listen, it’s a bit out of place in its introduction, but it takes its place quickly.  And suddenly we’ve got from a basic piano/drum beat to a trance tune that can only be classified as art.  If you took the beginning and the end and played it for any passerby, none of them would even consider the outrageous fact that they belonged to the same song.  I still don’t believe it.  But Hazem and Allan found a way to make it work, and make it work well.  Kudos.

5. Denis Kenzo feat. Sveta B. – Lullaby Lonely (Progressive Mix) (8.5/10)

Another rushed transition here by Armin as we get into the beautiful (now female) vocal hits.  It was a bit weird to see this song in the compilation, being that Eco used it in his (albeit a different mix) last summer.  So it’s not “new” by any means, but after the past two songs, it fits into this beach mode that Armin has created for us after accidentally sending us to the club for the first few songs.  Oops.
The song, being a “Progressive Mix,” is a bit more upbeat than our prior song, let alone the version used on Eco’s “Constellations in You.”  It’s a great melody, though.  You can sort of get a feel that were it not for the drums, you could see this actually being used as a Lullaby, especially as the breakdown progresses.  It’s a well layered song as well.  In contrast to “We Are,” you really have to keep a keen ear to your speakers if you want to pick out all the elements used here.  While nothing in this song is new or original, it takes elements from the production of past trance and puts it into a great package.

So while you won’t hear this song being blasted from any late night, 2AM, rave in an underground club, it’s the perfect tune to pump through your stereo as you drive off into the sunset.

6. The Blizzard & Daniel van Sand feat. Julie Thompson – Made For You (Club Mix) (7/10)

A pretty quick but decent transition into this song.  This is also our first true vocal of the song, featuring the ever wonderful Julie Thompson.  Her vocals are more in line with her later works (These Shoulders, Somewhere Inside) rather than her earlier works (Nothing).  The vocals come in full force as The Blizzard and Daniel create a darker, deeper atmosphere.  In fact, for the first few minutes, you can’t really tell where The Blizzard laid their hands on the track, as their signature sound in everything from Kalopsia to Piercing The Fog has yet to reveal itself 1:30 in.
Regarding the beat, it’s a semi-overpowering instrumental leading to our piano/vocalist breakdown.   “There’s nothing left for me….you got everything I need.”  Julie’s voice sounds off in this breakdown compared to some of her earlier works.  The lead-out is a bit more trouse related, with a drum kick bringing us back into the main build.  Ah, and now we here the arpeggio, The Blizzard’s touch.  It’s definitely not as pronounced here as in prior works, but finally makes an appearance after almost 4 minutes.  Overall, it’s a solid tune.  Perhaps the breakdown and lead out could have been tweaked.  I’d also would have liked to see more of The Blizzard’s classic touch on it; you just get the feeling that despite being primary author, they had secondary input on the track.

7. Two&One & Sarah Russell – Dream State (7.5/10)
So a relatively new artist and vocalist for this track. Sarah Russell’s name sounds familiar and older than what I originally though, but her discog page only shows 3 tracks from 2012.  Maybe I’m getting this confused with Sarah Howells.
No matter.  Transition was again a bit rushed, accentuated by a key jump this time around.  We are continuing this sort of heavier, darker beach sounds as from the prior track.  Armin, then, has pushed things up a bit as we go deeper into the night.  Which, while I have no complaints about, it’s only 7 songs in and we’ve still got a ways to go yet.  The vocal and stutter of Sarah dictate your typical faded synths in the buildup.  We’ve got another string/piano breakdown early on which starts our main vocals.
“Going to let you go…this time I know.”  I think the vocal+string combination in this breakdown works a bit better than the prior song. I also like the bassline and proggier synth used after the breakdown.  It might not put me into a “Dream State” moreso than a…well….state of trance.  Not a “In The Club” song, but definitely one of those beach songs that kicks the tempo up a few notches.  Whether that’s something you like this early on into our journey is up to you.
Still…it’s got a catchy bassline.


8. Aly & Fila feat. Tricia McTeague – Speed Of Sound (8.5/10)

So, weirdly, we’re not closing out a CD this time with a Jwaydan, but I have no complaints about that.  While “We Control The Sunlight” wasn’t my TOTW for 2011, I still enjoyed the song.  However, I felt that “Coming Home” was just Aly & Fila riding off their prior year success, and, well, it showed in the production and non-top ranking of the song.
They seem, then, to switch up their style again for ASOT and bring in a new trance singer? I can’t find any prior info on this artist.  This also means that, after a nice non-vocal stretch, we’re at #3 in a row now.  The transition was smoother this time around.  The beat starts off really nice building up to an intro-breakdown with (surprise surprise) a piano and a vocalist.
But wow.  It reminds me of some of the more prog house vocal songs from the mid-2000s.  I’m not sure how “trancey” that makes the song, but it sounds solid.  The vocals are in tune with the beat, which is heavy in the bass and continues this darker theme that Armin has got going on for us.

Our main breakdown is a sweeping synth (hence the ‘trance‘ designation I guess).  “You feel the beat….” So Aly & Fila kick up a melody.  With the darker synths, the prog-influence, and the grittier bassline, I’d actually expect a track like this to be on a first CD of Markus Schulz’s compilation rather than ASOT.  But it works here.  And I think it’s the best vocal of the three so far.  Kudos to the Egyptian Duo.

9. Dart Rayne & Yura Moonlight & Cate Kanell – Shelter Me (6/10)

Yura and Dart have been doing some great work lately.  We really only get a short break here (about 25 seconds) between the outro of Aly & Fila through the intro buildup of “Shelter Me.”  We then immediately get another female vocal.  I mean, yes, I get it: vocals sell, female vocals dominate trance, and what would be a beach party without the ladies?  But it’s okay Armin! You can add in an instrumental or dub in now and again.
Anyway.  “All the people surround me…try so hard to be…” The producers are trying hard to make this a summer hit.  It pays off, though.  It’s more of your standard beach/prog trance tune rather than the darker hints we had earlier.  And a piano breakdown, but despite this being a repeating theme so far, it’s a good one with just the right amount of vocals to resonate around your head.  “Shelter Me.” Yes shelter me from the synth pitch buildup at the end of the breakdown.  For over 3 minutes we had a great tune going, and then Dart and Yura decide to throw something from W&W’s basket of tricks into the mix.  What was such a great tune for the first 3 minutes gets destroyed at the very end.  Pity.

10. Myon & Shane 54 with Aruna – Lights (Club Mix) (7/10)

Ah, Myon & Shane54’s new track with Aruna.  Guess that means another vocal, but it’s Aruna, so I’ll let you slide for now Armin.  The transition was as short as it has been so far this mix, but it sounded a lot more natural that some of the others so far.
“Pull me closer….let me lose control tonight with you.”  The synth work and beat so far is very M&S54-ish; it doesn’t change much from their other prior works, both with Aruna and instrumentally.  See basically any song from them in the past few years.  Ditto with Aruna.  It’s a littler deeper than, say, “Save The Day,” but it has the same vibe going.  In fact, with this combo, a DJ could easily transition between these songs and the audience would probably be sort of oblivious to the change.
Our breakdown is a bajno….kidding, it’s another piano (what else?).  “I want to sing to you tonight.”  With that voice, by all means continue.  Again, Aruna isn’t adding anything new or special here compared to her prior works, but in all honesty, does she really need to?  All of her vocals have been hits so far, why fix something that isn’t broke?
Out of the breakdown we get a nice, perhaps more uplifting, beat with a few scattered elements and synth hits typical of M&S54.  I’ll say right now that this will definitely be played a bit throughout ASOT600 and overplayed on International Departures.  It’s a good (but maybe not memorable) vocal with a catchy melody.
Be forewarned, though, that most of this song falls under your mainstream “pop trance,” so if you aren’t a fan of this style, then you’re going to want to skip over this song.  But because it’s pop trance, it’s going to be on the radio a bit the next few months.

11. Super8 & Tab – Teardrops (4.5/10)

Uhhhh…..Armin? What happened with the transition there?  Actually, better question: where was the transition?  We went straight from pop-trance directly into a trouse-sounding beat, and it wasn’t a pretty stop/play either.
To start off with, we get the “Trance 2.0” style pretty much immediately.  Which is a bummer for a few reasons.  One, it’s Super8 & Tab.  The same duo that made “My Enemey” and “First Aid;” they know how to make great uplifting trance.  Two, this is a track I’d expect to see plastered all over Anjunabeats right now, not A State of Trance.  I mean, yes Armin I wanted a break from vocals here, but not with this. I even don’t mind Trance 2.0/trouse occasionally, but right here? It doesn’t work.
The breakdown is nice, though, with the piano.  The drum claps get added in a touch, and we’re building back up to the main beat.  Eh, the pitch is a bit weak in its bend.  The bassline is pretty heavy and dark now; typical with Super8 & Tab.  But despite it being a relatively sorta-catchy melody after the breakdown, it’s not suited for ASOT, at least CD1 anyway.  The piano is still nice, though.

12. VillaNaranjos – Jalon (7.5/10, if only for the guitar)

VillaNaranjos had an absolutely sublime tune last year with Granadella, one that Armin should have made the intro to ASOT 2012 instead of that other catchy but worthless as a beach intro song, whatever it’s called.  My expectations, then, when I saw Jalon were extremely high.  I wanted them to make a Granadella 2.0.  After the last Super8 & Tab song, I want to return to the beach where I belong.  So what do we get?
First of all, a longer and nice transition here.  It’s definitely more upbeat, perhaps trousier, to start off with than last time.  But then the guitar.  Memories of Ibiza Trance come washing back onto shore.  So short lived though as we get back to our un-inspired synths, sad to say.  Halfway through the song the really only redeeming feature is the Balearic guitar.  We’ve got a bit too much pitch, a bit too much house elements as we approach the main beat.  The main beat itself is definitely more uplifting and trance-sounding than Granadella.  Which, while this track certainly fits on this side of the album, it doesn’t have the same magic as Granadella.  It doesn’t inspire me.  While I can’t except Granadella 2.0, I thought that the end result for Jalon would have been a little closer.

13. Matt Bukovski – Eterna (6.5/10)

Stop. Play. Stop. Play.  C’mon Armin.  We’re still on the beach, right?  Let your music flow like the calm waves caressing the shoreline, not like some tsunami ravaging the rocky coastline.
We’re away as well from our nice beach sounds and back to something that would have worked well after the Super8 & Tab song.  The standard proglifting trance 2.0 stuff that would work better on Anjunabeats than A State of Trance.  The main intro beat has nothing really special on it.  We also have a quick piano breakdown as well.  However, our breakdown definitely has a nice vibe to it.  A bit happier of a piano (like “Children” for instance), but unlike our buildup, it actually fits into this beach theme well, with the long vocal “ooos” and “aaas” treading lightly through the background.  And our main beat after the break continues with this style.  In fact, the entire song save the first minute is perfect.

So yet again, we’ve got a song that would score higher if it weren’t for a bad section. Seems to be a recurring theme here.

14. Armin van Buuren feat. Fiora – Waiting For The Night (Beat Service Remix) (8/10)

This song has been out for a while now, so it’s nothing new on my end.  I’ll admit that the Beat Service Remix has grown on me, and with the vocals is actually a bit better than the Dub Mix (I think the Dub Mix is a bit too repetitive and drawn out).  Beat Service did a tremendous job on the remix here, transforming a straight House song (yes, Armin doesn’t produce just trance) into something suitable for the trance world.
The melody itself is definitely influenced by Beat Service’s touch.  The breakdown is typical but still pleasant to the ears.  “We’re always waiting for the night.” Coincidentally, I’m also waiting for my beach night to be a bit smoother than it has been the past few songs, as we’ve switched styles now pretty frequently, something that seems to have made its way into this mix from Universal Religion 6.
Anyway, the vocals are pop-ish, but still sound good; Fiora did a great job here.  The beat does take a few cues from earlier songs with the pitch raise in the build, but that seems to be the standard cup of tea now a days.  So while this isn’t as pop-trance-ish as say “Lights,” it’s up there.  I still like it though.

15. Protoculture – Laguna (6.5/10)

For once, we have a long transition into our next song.  It’s also a pity as well, being that this is one of the shorter tracks on the album (a bit more on that below).
Our intro beat is an interesting drum choice with a swooping set of strings that bring us to the breakdown.  But oh wow the break.  It’s got a nice soft vocal touch in the background and some beautiful angelic synths.  The kick out to the main beat isn’t overdone either.  Our main melody is decent and sort of catchy, but I really think a longer version would have done wonders here.  The piano hits in the background are nice as well. The main bassline and synths definitely have a Protoculture feel to them.
However, this sounds more along the lines of Perpetual Motion quality than Sun Gone Down quality.  In short, it’s a good hit, but not a home run.
16, Solarstone & Clare Stagg – Jewel (Pure Mix) (8.5/10)

A great quick transition to our last song on the album.  It’s one of my favorite duos from last year: Solarstone and Clare Stagg.  “The Spell” was absolutely wonderful and was in my personal Top 10 at the end of the year.  “Jewel” is also a single from Solarstone’s artist album, and the set of mixes and remixes have already been released.  It’s a worthy single, though.

“Don’t be afraid…” of the 138.  The main melody falls in line with Solarstone’s latest style of music, more in tune with “The Spell” than, say, “Like A Waterfall.”  I will admit though that it’s an interesting twist between vocalist and Solarstone.  The melody sounds happy and cheerful, but the vocals have a dark tint to them.  It’s an interesting contrast, but it works.  The breakdown is has the piano hits with the moving synths as Clare continues to provide us those great and pitch-changing vocals.  She can sing, no doubt about it.
My biggest complaint about the track, though, is that it seems just a tad too happy.  A tad too cheesy.  I can’t really explain it any better than that, but if push came to shove, I would rather hear “The Spell” any day over “Jewel.”  Still not a bad way to end our trip on the beach.

So, we’ve finished our On the Beach tour:

CD 1 On The Beach Average: 7.47/10

I think CD1 was a hit or miss this year when it came to songs that emulated that beach feeling I use to love in the past, however this CD did average slightly higher (7.47  instead of 7.4) than ASOT 2012.  I think that overall the songs had a bit better selection as well, although we did run into a few issues with too many vocals in a row, too much piano breakdown, and a bit of rough transitions, which is odd seeing that this is undoubtedly a studio mix on Abelton.
The flow was off at parts as well.  We’d go from club music to the beach, then to darker night sounds, then trance 2.0, then beach, then prog, and so on.  It wasn’t that any of the songs completely clashed with one another (although some came close), it‘s just that the overall feel felt interrupted at times.  None the less, the highlights of CD1:

Sand Beneath Your Toes:

BT – Skylarking:  Yes, BT is definitely back with this song.  It’s a joy to listen to any of this extremely talented producer, and this song is no exception.

Hazem Beltagui & Allan V. – We Are:  I don’t care that it’s a stretch to call the majority of this song trance; it’s just an overall beauty that fits in perfectly in the early mix.  This is the type of song that highlights what a “On The Beach” mix should be.

Aly & Fila feat. Tricia McTeague – Speed Of Sound:  It’s a bit more house and prog than trance, but Aly & Fila put together a really solid track and bassline, and Tricia’s vocals are just icing on the cake.

Choppy Waves:

Dart Rayne & Yura Moonlight & Cate Kanell – Shelter Me:  Three minutes of beautiful trance ruined by some ridiculous synthetic pitch build.

Super8 & Tab – Teardrops:  Uninspired “Trance 2.0” that would have been better off on Anjunabeats Volume 10 than here on the beach.  The piano is its redeeming quality.

Mixing and Composition: I think that Armin could have worked on his transitions a bit more here; some were rough.  Also, outside of the first and last song, every other song seemed way too short.  I understand this is a mix compilation, but it seemed that every song was quick buildup, breakdown, melody, and quickly out or into the next song.  In that regards, it felt more like a showcase of individual songs rather than a journey through trance.  And many of the breakdowns were within a minute of the song starting.  That’s way too early.

On to CD2, In the Club!

1. Alexander Popov – Lost Language (Intro Mix) (7.5/10)

We start off our club journey with an actual intro mix this time.  The first angelic voices reminds me of a Gaia production, but we ignore any resemblance as we get into that over-used and over-done pitch build up.  Alexander wastes no time with tame melodies, though.  We’ve got a heavy bassline and quick beat here.  It’s a great combination here as we drop off into our breakdown, which again is Gaia-ish (but more like the old Gaia, which is never a bad thing).  The synth hits are pleasant and not completely over-bearing, but again we get the pitch raise to our main beat.  I think this is going to be a recurring theme over this CD.
Our main melody incorporates these pulsating synths.  Alexander Popov has produced better, no doubt, but this is a nice tune to start things off, combining the uplifting and mainstream trance with a bit of the club and big room.

2. Armin van Buuren & W&W – D# Fat (2.5/10, saved only by the catchy intro and breakdown)

Before I even listened to this song, I knew that it was going to be one way or the other: Armin with a touch of W&W, or W&W with a touch of Armin.  I use to absolutely love W&W.  “Mustang” is one of my all-time favorites across the trance genre.  “Manhattan,” “Arena,” “Beta….” the list goes on and on.  More recently they’ve really, let’s say, ‘explored‘ the big room and electro house scene.  While some songs have been pretty decent (“Lift-Off”), others are a complete disaster (“The Code.” To call that trance is insulting).  In short, I wanted W&W’s influence to be minimal or old-school on this track.
Despite that we’re in the club, we actually have a good transition here.  Why just now Armin?  We get some like siren-sounding synths in the background as we build up.  That’s all W&W’s touch.  The piano hint and hit though? Armin no doubt.  So far up to the breakdown, all is actually well.  It’s got that big room vibe, but I’m digging it as a club banger so far.  The breakdown sounds like Armin dictated the notes while W&W added their synth touch.  The choir of angels flow in the background.  However, we get out of this breakdown.  And then we get that Big Room W&W sound they’ve been using like in “The Code.” And then those marching drums.  And the pitch bend build.  And the electro house beat after that.  At this point, even calling this Big Room Trance is a stretch, because after our breakdown, it seems trance got lost somewhere in the background.
Basically we got W&W with a dash of Armin.  We have something that I have no doubt will do well in a prog/electro house club, but on a trance CD? It’s as appropriate and in the right place as a decked out Hawaiian surfer in the middle of the Arctic circle.
D# Fat? More like B# Crap.


3. Armin van Buuren & Markus Schulz – The Expedition (A State Of Trance 600 Anthem) (7.5/10)

Another song that’s been out for a bit.  Our theme, of course, for A State of Trance 600. Our transition here is also a nice long one from Armin, and it flows well from “D# Fat.”
The intro beat here is definitely Markus-influenced with Armin’s vocal hits in the background.  Being that this is an anthem, Markus definitely went with his more prog and dark sounds rather than this deeper selections.  The breakdown has grown on me, I’ll admit.  It’s cliche for an anthem, but it works with the vocal “ooos and aaahhs.”  I do like that nice muffled synth as we get out of the breakdown, though.  It’s pleasing and reminds me of a few past great anthems (including Rank 1 way back in 2009 with L.E.D. There Be Light).
Here’s the problem I have with the song, though.  The ending part after the break is mostly repetitive.  As an anthem, it sort of works, but ASOT has had better.  When you then realize that both Markus and Armin worked on it, you see why it’s even a worse scenario.  These are two world-class producers who have created some outstanding anthems for multiple events in the past years, and this is what they came up with?

4. Ana Criado & Adrian&Raz – Dancing Sea (AYDA Remix) (7/10)

Our only shot at seeing some sort of “Triple A” production this year (yes I know this isn’t the original trio).  Adrian & Raz have been putting out some great tunes on their new label.  AYDA has been a hit or miss for me the past year.  Ana Criado is just Ana Criado: great vocalist and stunning voice when paired with the right backings.
We get a nice transition out of the Expedition into our Dancing Sea.  It starts off really nice with a great melody from A&R (or perhaps it’s AYDA’s touch).  “Morning Dewdrops….say the changing winds that blow away the clouds of yesterday.”  Our breakdown highlights Ana’s voice wonderfully.  But at this point, I think the track is doing the work.  Ana’s voice and lyrics so far aren’t bringing anything new to the table, and it’s started to get a tad bit repetitive, seeing as how she was a very frequent vocalist last year.  “Dancing Sea….are you ever weak?”  Ana Criado’s voice isn’t, though, that’s for sure.
Our main melody here has a hitting synth that’s been used many times in the past.  It’s a bit happier and a bit more uplifting than the prior couple of songs.  In all honesty, this should have came earlier before the darker and dirtier club tracks in our first couple of songs.  Overall, the song isn’t bad by any stretch, but it shoots shy of it’s greatness potential.

5. Alex M.O.R.P.H. – New York City (Alex M.O.R.P.H. Original Mix) (6/10)

Usually Alex M.O.R.P.H. produces some excellent tunes for me, but some of his later works…I just can’t get into them as much.  This track suffers the same fate.

Our transition from A&R was quick but smooth.  We don’t spend much time building up our beats here; Alex is more of a head-first-diver type of guy.  It’s a pretty good beat and bassline.  Our breakdown has us fading out to almost nothing before the large sonic hit.  The synth work on this in the buildup after the breakdown sounds familiar, but I can’t place it right now.  But it’s building up to a melody that just doesn’t cut it, especially knowing what Alex is capable of in the past.
I still think that this is a dance-able song.  It will get the blood flowing, but it doesn’t have the feel of a superb Alex M.O.R.P.H. production.  And it certainly doesn’t feel anything like a New York City state of mind.

6. AYDA – Caesar (5/10)

We’re back to AYDA again, who’s been a hit more miss for me.  The transition here was another smooth one by Armin as we get into our intro.
It‘s a quick breakdown, but we get the electric piano this time.  A bit different than what we’ve heard so far on this CD, but AYDA uses some weird key choices on top of the standard vocal hits, so it’s not as smooth as one might want.  As we build up back to our main melody, it’s clear that AYDA is trying to create this “epic” movement of harmony and fury rolled into one trance song; attempting to emulate the Caesar of Rome.  But this song is more like Commodus, one that’s a bit lazy and styles itseful as better than what it really is.

Our main melody doesn’t add much to the song, and the synth work is ok at best.  Finally, it still keeps hitting a few notes that just throw the flow off.

7. John O’Callaghan & Full Tilt feat. Karen Kelly – Breathe (6.5/10)

So, we get a nice transition into the new Full Tilt and JOC collaboration.  Another vocal in the club is never a bad thing.  The intro here and very quick breakdown doesn’t spend much time pandering to the anthem crowd; rather it takes its uplifting and goes straight to work.  “Breathe in…I close my eyes” as we move across the dance floor.  I think the buildup of this song will be better in full rather than the mix cut Armin is using.
Coming out of the break, we hear some drums typical of Full Tilt with a nice synth and melody. It’s one of those that I think will be better actually in the clubs rather than a sit-home listen.  We also have a building drum to our outro that has some interesting break elements thrown in.  It’s heavy in the bass, heavy in the noise, and apparently our vocals were limited to the breakdown only.  Overall, it’s a club-turner and not a bad track.  But you get the feeling at the end of it that John O’Callaghan said he was going to do this collaboration but ended up skipping every studio session and left Full Tilt to make the entire song.

8. Armin van Buuren presents Gaia – Humming The Lights (7.5/10)

We first heard rumors of a new Gaia probably back in late 2011 when this song was first road-tested I believe.  Things stayed quiet until late last year when this song started to make its way into Armin’s set.  A new Gaia is (usually) a welcome and nice surprise, but how would this fair?
In our nice transition, we start to hear the typical Gaia vocal hits early on (even in the end of the JOC/Full Tilt song).  Our beat starts off heavy and dark.  It’s got a great drum beat, sort of rustic or aboriginal if that makes any sense.  The bass on this song sounds great though.  It reminds me a bit of the Aly & Fila from before.  And with the faint pitch of the synths and piano, it actually feels like a song that would have worked well on In Search of Sunrise 4: Latin America on the second CD.  It’s got a old-school, sort of non-European feel to it.  As we build up into our main synth, though, it starts to sound less and less old school and more and more like Orjan Nilsen’s next track.
This is where things start to take a turn for the worse, perhaps due to the number of collaborations Armin and Orjan have had in the past year or so.  Whereas we’ve had an interesting and pleasant sounding (but perhaps not really Gaia-ish) track so far, we get to that pitch build up.  Talk about ruining a perfectly fine song so far, but it brings us to a heavier hitting and deeper bass melody, so I’ll allow it.

Halfway through as we approach the breakdown, it sounds like a good Armin production, but I don’t feel the Gaia nature at all in this song.  Perhaps, if anything, a touch of J’ai Envie De Toi? The breakdown is less heavenly breakdown and just a more pronounced and altered synth with a weaker drum kick in the background.  It’s fairly short-lived, too, continuing this same synth with the heavier melody from before.

Overall, the song is pretty captivating.  It’s got a great club melody, and the bass itself will ensure some great times in the months ahead.  I also have no doubt this will be in the ASOT Top 20 at the end of this year.  But, and this is just too large of a but to ignore, it doesn’t sound like a Gaia song.  If anything, it’s as if Armin took the worst of J’ai Envie De Toi and mashed it with the Gaia-abomination that was Stellar (also a song that would have faired better with AvB on its name rather than Gaia).

9. Rank 1 vs M.I.K.E. – Elements Of Nature (9/10)

With these two at the helm, could anything go wrong? Not a chance. Our transition was quick this time, but works out extremely well.  The buildup in our melody is superb, putting together a great melody with supreme bass and a synth that hits everywhere but it’s intended key.  But it works.

The initial breakdown is relatively uneventful in how it contrasts the rest of the song, but quite honestly I didn’t want a massive break here.  It’s a great progressive and dark tune that will work wonders in the club.  The beat itself is intoxicating, as we filter out to our second and main break.  Again, Rank 1 and M.I.K.E. stay away from no-drum, vocal hit infused breakdowns, instead just taking down the backing bass down a few notches for a quick 15 seconds of relief, but then it’s back to the dance floor.
My only complaint, and a small one at that, is that it becomes a bit repetitive of a beat, where at times I just want to yell at these two to get a move on with it but can’t because it’s still a wonderful track.

10. Andrew Rayel – Musa (5.5/10)

I want to like this song.  550 Senta was my TOTY for 2012.  I know Andrew Rayel hasn’t changed his melody in the past year and everything was 550 Senta 2.0. But I still want to like this song. I still want this (at one time called 600 Musa) song to be 550 Senta, but better.  I want Andrew Rayel to win my heart and soul again like he did last year.

We get our first rough quick transition into Andrew Rayel.  We start with our buildup: our muffled vocals and typical Rayel drumkit.  Sadly I can already see the resemblance to every other Rayel song in the past year, which is unfortunate.  The main melody isn’t overpowering or pompous, but it’s nothing spectacular either.  But it’s still a decent beat, albeit a bit less club danceable than “Elements of Nature” or “Humming The Lights.”
Uh-oh, I just got transported onto the set of Jeopardy.  It’s near the end; I see Trebek smiling up front.

“Time for tonight’s Final Jeopardy.  Our Category? Breakdowns.  Here’s your clue: This instrument has been used by Andrew Rayel in every single breakdown in every song he produced in late 2011 through 2012.”

[Jeopardy Music]

“No, I’m sorry, panflute is not the correct answer.  We were looking for ‘What is the Piano?’”

Yes, it’s a piano breakdown.  Yes, it’s lovely.  Yes, it’s overdone in this CD (moreso On The Beach).  Yes, it’s typical Andrew Rayel.  And yes, we come out of the breakdown with an angelic and ‘epic‘ buildup back to a full blown choir.  It’s at this point when you realize if AYDA’s “Caesar” was trying to hard to impress his date by getting her a dozen roses, then Andrew Rayel is the type who brought in a Barber Shop Quartet, 12 dozen roses, 3 boxes of Godiva chocolate, and a white horse to take her to a 5 star restaurant. It’s not needed Andrew.
The main melody now shifted from the non-pompous and over-powering to the one that’s way too egotistical for its own good.  Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what Andrew is trying to do, nor is the beat necessarily bad.  It’s just a bit over the top and a bit over-done from Andrew.  I want to give it a higher rating, but I just can’t.

11. RAM – Grotesque (Alex M.O.R.P.H. and RAM Original Mix) (8/10)

This is one of those songs that I’ve heard already and has been out.  I know a lot of people who enjoy it, but I’m not one of them.  I’ll explain a bit later.
Our transition was smooth and intro is a great melancholic buildup to a nice melody and that echo-ing drum in the background.  For such a short song on the side, it takes its time building up.  In fact, when we get to the breakdown, it’s a bit unexpected, as the main melody seemed to be lacking; it wanted to continue adding more layers, not taking it away.

The breakdown though has the sweeping strings throughout.  It’s definitely a nice long tension release from the past few songs.  We get to our main melody, and it’s definitely a kicker.  Without even trying, this melody and song has officially become more “epic” than “Musa” and “Caesar.”  However, this is no RAMsterdam.  And while it’s grown on me, there’s just something off about it that’s preventing me from really enjoying the song.

12. Jorn van Deynhoven – Superfly (6.5/10)

A new one from Jorn.  I was sort of surprised to see him have a new track on ASOT so quickly after his Headliner debut on UR6.  To be honest, I kind of wish Thomas Bronzwaer was back on ASOT duties.  While I know Jorn can’t live up to his remixes in the past, nor will this be a “Spotlight,” I wanted to be pleasantly surprised as I was with “Headliner” last year.

We’ve got a nice smooth and quick transition into “Superfly.”  We don’t really spend much time with any sort of buildup: it kind of just goes straight to the breakdown.  Which, while it doesn’t have the melody plucks like “Headliner,” it is using a nice synthetic sweeping string, dark and ominous almost.  It’s a bit extended than what we’ve seen so far on this side, and after “Grotesque,” I think another large breakdown isn’t really needed.

Our pitch up to our beat gives us our breakdown that sort of sounds like Swedish House Mafia’s work (“One” perhaps).  Along with the other trouse-infused elements here, I must say it’s a bit disappointing.  It’s got a groove-able melody, but I think it falls a bit flat compared to “Headliner.”  And for a song that claims it is “Super fly,” it goes quickly to just all-talk with nothing to show for it.

13. MaRLo – BOOM (6.5/10)

We get another weak transition to what ends up being a very quick (less than three minute) song.  It‘s definitely a big room track from the get-go, but I’m not really impressed with the initial build up here. It’s not doing anything particularly special, and the drum kit sounds too similar to W&W’s used earlier in “D# Fat.”
While we’ve got another string breakdown, it’s not as pretty or well constructed as we’ve heard so far.  But after the break, the synth hits! It’s weird.  It’s something I can see myself grooving to, and despite it being generic big room trance, those synths (for whatever reason) turn an okay song in to an interesting one.  It’s still a bit too short though.

14. Frans Bak – The Killing (Armin van Buuren Remix) (9.5/10)

We’ve got an ice transition (a bit longer) into our AvB remix here.  I’m surprised this is on the album, seeing that’s been out and played for a while.  But I don’t really care, though.  The quick buildup into our breakdown is sublime.  While I don’t think a long breakdown is necessary at this point, I’m fine with this song.  The darker and deeper vocal hits and “ooos” are entrancing.  We’re also now back to some proper trance.  Energetic, ridiculously catchy melody, and super synth work.

Yes we do have a buildup (but not a pitch bend) to get into our main melody here, but it works in this song.  The synth hits are now higher in pitch, a bit happier, contrasting well with the deep and dark bass.  I think it’s one of Armin’s best remixes to date, and definitely one of his best works since perhaps even his earlier Gaia works or “Orbion” from his Mirage album.

15. Heatbeat – Game Over (2.5/10, saved by the breakdown synths and that alone)

We have another quick transition and quick breakdown to our Heatbeat song.  The breakdown is heavily synth populated (a full melody minus the drum in short).  After the breakdown, however, things get chaotic.  It’s as if Heatbeat just downloaded BT’s Stutter Edit but failed to even read the instruction manual.  I think I hear a coin sound from Mario in there as well.

In fact, with 2 minutes left, I have no idea yet what this song is even try to do or accomplish.  It’s like Skrillex came in and chopped up a stutter experiment of BT’s, and Heatbeat just twisted it to their melody.  The only redeeming quality here is the synth work in the breakdown.  This is definitely no “Ask The Cat” or even “Chow Mein.”

Game over Heatbeat? After this song, one would hope so.

16. Bjorn Akesson – Gunsmoke (7/10)

A great slide over to Bjorn Akesson.  I remember getting this song when it was released.  So I know even before listening to it that’s a bit generic, a bit noisy, a bit chaotic.  But for some reason it’s catchy as hell.

The intro’s got a nice drum melody to it.  Our breakdown employs some quick strings, but doesn’t focus long on keeping the beat away.  We have the quick “patter patter” of the drums to our main melody.
Oh man, I can already envision that drop in the club.  It’s got the bass to make any dance floor go wild.  The fact that I just used “envision that drop” means that, yes, this is more electro, prog house, some form of brostep, and strings from trance rather than a pure trance 138 anthem.  But despite all of this, it’s still catchy.  And I guarantee it’ll get the dance floors moving in a heartbeat.

17. Andain – What It’s Like (Sneijder Remix) (6.5/10)
Eh, wasn’t feeling this last transition here, but we’re wrapping things up after that massive club banger with Andain and Sneijder on the mix and production.  From the get-go, it has the same issue that Armin’s closing “In The Club” tracks have had the past few years.  Armin takes us “deep down the rabbit hole” with some dark and heavy beats, but then for the last song shifts 180 to this uplifting happy energetic song?  I don’t get it.

“Do you know” about the intro buildup melody?  It’s ok nothing really special.  “Do you know what [the breakdown] is like?  A bit, I’d venture to guess.  It’s a typical light string with a decent drum.  I know also recognize the vocals in the breakdown from M&S54’s 2012 Megamix.  Unfortunately, Andain’s vocals here just don’t match up to the work she’s done in the past.  The remix by Sneijder doesn’t enhance them either in any way.  So take away the names and what we’re left with is a generic uplifter that doesn’t work to end the mix that we’ve had the past 4 songs, nor does it bring anything memorable to the table.

It just is.  And you know what? After a CD that went back and forth between “OMG” and “WTF,” I’m fine with a run of the mill, generic song.  Something had to be normal and sensible in this mix, what better place to put it than the end?

So, there you have it: On the Club.

CD2 In the Club Average: 6.5/10

Where CD1 was all over the place, most of the songs here fit our theme of the club.  Unfortunately where 2012 CD2 brought us some very nice club bangers consistently, this CD gave us hits or misses all nights.  As such, it scores 1.2/10 points lower for it’s average final score.  We had some great transitions and some great floor movers, but it just wasn’t enough to get around some of the awful tracks in this mix.

Dancing with a Dime:

Frans Bak – The Killing (Armin van Buuren Remix):  Just a super remix by Armin van Buuren.  The melody is superb, the bass sublime, and the breakdown heavenly.

Rank 1 vs M.I.K.E. – Elements Of Nature:  Don’t let the repetitive nature or limited breakdown of the song fool you; it really is one of this duo’s best works.

Overpriced Liquor:

Heatbeat – Game Over:  Appropriate name for a track that went on for one too many extra lives. 

Armin van Buuren & W&W – D# Fat:  Should have used a solid D# Flat synth note for the entire song instead.  Would have sounded better than whatever this is supposed to be called, because it isn’t music.  I also would like to believe that Armin was forced at gunpoint to put his name on the track, because it’s not even close to even his bare minimum standards.

A State of Trance 2012 Average: 6.97/10

So, there you have it.  A State of Trance 2013.  Armin continues his compilation magic this year with his 2CD mix to start off the 2013 Year of Trance.  This is usually one of the most anticipated albums by Armin van Buuren every year (the other being the Yearmix), and usually it’s not a surprise why.  Memorable tunes, two settings, and a flow to keep you plugged in for hours with the CD on repeat.  However, this album was plagued with poor transitions, bad track selection at times, and just some downright awful songs.  Time for the FAQ!

Should I buy this?

Ehhh, Armin’s been getting me to question my devout loyalty to him these past few releases.  CD1 has great tunes but is plagued by Armin not knowing what direction to take the mix, so we jump from the club to the beach at sunset to a nightclub to a 2AM beach set.  CD2 has some absolute club bangers and some absolute club destroyers (as in completely kill the mood and club i.e. bad).  I don’t know if I can recommend it as such.  If your devout to ASOT Radio and the upcoming ASOT 600, I’d say it would be important to know these songs, as you’ll hear them quite frequently in the next few months. But quite honestly most people will be better off with singles, as any sort of true club or beach atmosphere was left back on ASOT 2012.

Where do you place this on your ASOT list?

I need to start splitting up ASOT based on the styles of trance, as it’s unfair to compare 2004 with 2013, for instance.  So up until 2008:

  • 2004 (some old school nostalgia on here.  I mean, we start off with Mark Otten and Solid Globe.  How can that not be a good compilation?)
  • 2006 (especially CD1: magical)
  • 2005
  • 2007

For 2008 and beyond compilations:

  • 2008
  • 2010
  • 2011 (barely beaten out by 2010)
  • 2012
  • 2009
  • 2013

Regarding the earlier mixes, they all are superb in their own rights.  I think 2004 is just a wonderful 2 hour journey.  2006 CD1 is one of Armin’s best.  Even 2007, while “last” in that ranking, is far from being average.  All four are well worth your time to listen to if you haven’t already.

Regarding the later mixes, I loved 2008.  Perhaps I’m a bit biased there as it was my first ASOT compilation that I listened to.  2010 and 2011 are very close to each other; both were excellent in their own ways.  2012 is just a step below these two; good just not good enough. 2009 was a bit weak (good songs, just not a strong mix even 4 years later).  But I have to place 2013, despite it being the 10th anniversary of this compilation, as the weakest.  It couldn’t even follow up to 2012, which was kind-of weak to begin with.  And even 2009 with it’s “weak mix” still looks like a stunning compilation to ASOT 2013.

Every single year for ASOT and UR compilations I can rattle off memorable tracks; pieces of a compilation that moved me.  Every year, Armin’s made it harder and harder for me to do that.  UR6 suffered from it and now ASOT 2013 is succumbing to the same disease.

What made you happy?

  • BT’s new track.  My gosh that was outstanding.
  • Hazem and Allan.  It might not be “trance,” but what a tune.
  • Aly & Fila, which is a huge surprise for me being that I’m not a die-hard fan of all their works.  It’s got an old-school (in a good way) vibe to it.
  • Humming The Lights.  What a beat.  What a set of drums.  And the bass!

What made you sad?

  • Gaia.  The song was not worthy of the Gaia name.  Should’ve stuck with just AvB.
  • Transitions. We had slopply quit start/stop transitions on CD 1 (The Beach) and smooth long transitions for the club on CD2.  That should be the complete opposite.  I want my beach experience to be relaxed and smooth, while my club experience is going to be chaotic anyway, so go ahead and start/stop: I’m still dancing like crazy.
  • W&W and Heatbeat.  I have no other words.
  • CD 1 song selection.  The jump from club to beach to night to club was nauseating.
  • Andrew Rayel :(  After being all that I talked about on ASOT 2012, he fell way, way short of the mark this year.

What did you think of how Gaia compared to Armin’s past songs under this alias? 

In order from my favorite to least favorite:

Aisha – I know many people say 4 Elements was the best work of Gaia.  I know many say Aisha failed to match Tuvan’s greatness.  I disagree.  I love Aisha.  It’s the perfect combination of heavenly breakdowns with progressive and uplifting trance synths.  But the breakdown! It still gives me chills.  Also if you’ve never had the chance, listen to the Ashley Wallbridge Remix: one of Ashley’s best works and one of the best renditions of Aisha in my opinion.

Tuvan – Oh man Tu-van.  This deserved it’s place in Armind’s record history.  A great tune at pretty much every level, from buildup to breakdown to fade out.  And Gareth’s touch on it makes me miss Emery’s more trance-related stuff rather than his new House/Electro craze.

4 Elements – If you’re new to trance, this song will feel weird.  If you’ve listened to Aisha and Tuvan and then got to 4 Elements, you’d wonder what did Armin do wrong here?  The entire song feels out of place compared to Gaia’s later works.  But, if you listen to it with respect to the era, you’ll see it really is one of Armin’s better, earlier works.  It captures all the elements needed to be superb in the Epic and Dutch trance era.  It’s interesting listening to it now, years later, just to see how much Armin and trance has shifted.  Trance has definitely progressed more into a “Look At Me! Look at my big beats and ridiculous breakdown” against it’s original purpose: to take you through a journey of sound.  I’m not bitter, don’t get me wrong.  Nor am I saying every song is guilty of this.  There are many tunes year after year that fit into this “Pure Trance” mold if you will.  Just a forewarning, though, to those looking for an anthem-ish Gaia here.  You’ll find, instead, something that would fit perfectly into Solarstone’s and Orkidea’s Pure Trance set.

Status Excessu D – This was an anthem for the 500th Episode.  The perfect combination of heavy dance floor beats and a stunning breakdown where you can just picture time almost freezing on the dance floor.  The song knows when to hit hard and when to cut back.  It was an excellent Gaia production.

J’ai Envie De Toi – It was definitely a turn for the better in the Gaia name.  Definitely a bit more modern(?) sounding with it’s progression than the past few years.  It captures Armin’s change of sound over the last few years, especially when compared to Aisha.  More big room than heavenly, but the addition of vocal hits was actually a nice touch.

Humming The Lights – As I said in my review, it’s got the worst parts of J’ai Envie De Toi mashed with Stellar.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad song by any means.  The bass is intoxicating.  It’s going to get a dance floor moving.  But it’s more Orjan and Armin than Gaia, so I can’t rank it high.  It at least makes attempts though, which is why it still beats out:

Stellar – I could never really get into this song.  At no point did I think this was a Gaia production.  It just sounded like a B-side to Armin’s Mirage album.  Orbion would have been a better Gaia fit. And the remixes to this were just awful.  The Edxs Fe5tival Remix was an abomination to both electro and trance.

What’s in store for the next ten years of trance? (Warning: Lengthy)

I’m actually optimistic about the trance scene.  Mainly because the bigger threats to the integrity of the music (commercial success and a US EDM craze right now) seem to be impacting the House and Dubstep scene more than trance, especially in the Electro and Brostep arenas.  I’m not naive, however.  Some of the trance artists have incorporated these sounds into their songs to appeal commercially.  Many artists have continued to incorporate vocals into trance to appeal to a sizeable group of people who have grown up listening to vocal-based songs only.  And, like it or not, everyone has a price they’re willing to accept in return for stepping down their quality or integrity of sound in return for more commercial hits.

All that being said, I think right now we’re in the midst of a war in the trance world.  A war of sound.  Where the winners are us, the listeners, as artists try to push their limits to sway us to their side.

Let me provide a bit of trance history first, though, to demonstrate where trance has been and why I think we’re at a pivotal point right now:

The origins of trance (and even what is considered the first “trance” song) is still debated.  But most people agree that Germany is the birthplace of trance.  Trance stylistically combined the melodic parts of house and techno with a bit of acid, pop, and classical music. In return, we started with what we now consider the beginnings of trance: music that pulls you into a journey of sound, songs that one could meditate through, and songs that reward the keen ear of listeners.  All of this started in the early 1990’s.

Things, like many aspects of life, started to change around 1996.  Trance before this point was a long 10+ minute journey, but lacked something we consider synonymous with trance today: a noticeable breakdown.  In fact, it was at this time we saw our first “trance war” if you will. You had the trance enthusiasts who stood by their original trance definition (one of repetitive and unresponsive movements designed to transform you into a different plain of thought) and these new “Progressive Trance” fans, defined by a formula and image: intro, breakdown, buildup, anthem, fade out.

This probably continued on for about 2-3 years, which songs being produced by both camps.  However, this “Progressive Trance” movement of the mid-1990s did something that the original trance artists could not, would not, or even did not, do: move trance from the underground to the mainstage.  This was Trance’s big moment, when the red carpet was rolled out.  And, like it or not, many artists were tempted and succumbed to commercial success over underground magic.

Before progressing, I’d like to point out that around the time that Progressive Trance and Classical Trance were fighting it out, some of the Classical Trance artists started to listen to and incorporate EBM and Dark Synth music from the Industrial movement in the 1980’s.  In short, we saw the mid-90’s create when we now consider Psy, Goa, and Acid Trance (and all their derivatives).  In fact, one could argue that at least for the next 10 years or so, these genres represented the original ideas of trance: brooding, ominous, deep tunes that transcend you into another realm.  Yes, even without the usage of drugs.

Anyway, what we have is a Classical vs. Progressive War.  Two trance movements trying to fight for mainstage approval and attention.  So instead of a progression of trance sounds from one era to the next, we have a complete split.  A duel.  Well, for better or worse, Progressive Trance won the mainstream attention. Classical trance artists, influenced by the earlier and perhaps coinciding Industrial movement, eventually formed this Psy/Goa/Acid movement that led up (via many iterations) to today’s versions of Hard Dance and Psy.  Progressive, meanwhile, continued to move towards Anthem and Epic Trance.

Epic and Anthem trance are the tunes most trance listeners today consider “classic trance.”  Original classical trance didn’t have breakdowns.  Progressive introduced them sparingly as a way to relax the crowd and release tension.  Anthem took this to the extreme, encoding what Ishkur describes as a “by-the numbers formula,” making breakdowns not a release or “accentuation of the moment” but using breakdowns as the “track’s entire purpose.”  Epic trance then took this to the extreme, pretty much removing any ‘slow-building of complicated layers of music and instead codified instant melodies accessible to the masses.’

It showed.  Trance hit its first big commercial peak in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Instead of unknown DJs playing tracks by big name producers, we started to see this shift where the DJ is the target of attention, not the music.  I believe this is where the form of “DJ Worship” began for the trance scene.  Most new listeners to trance won’t remember a time where a trance event wasn’t to see a DJ, but to listen to great tunes.  DJs were hidden in the back.  Their purpose wasn’t to put their arms up and get you to dance.  That was the music’s job.  But this shifted.  Commercial success and big names coincides with big performers.  Headlining events don’t highlight music; they highlight a name.  This peak really took place as we moved from Epic to Dutch trance in the early 2000’s.  This is when trance really took a turn for monumental breakdowns of a few minutes.  This is when trance reached primetime: where a trance DJ highlighted the Olympic Ceremony.  This was trance at its peak, for better or worse, and produced tunes that we now consider “instant-classics.”

The sounds continued to change from Dutch to what I consider “Modern Trance” from 2006-2008.  It was 2009, however, when I started to feel a shift.  The start of what, as of now, I consider “Fusion Trance.”  Around this time, EDM started to pick up across the world, specifically in the Electro scene.  This is around the time Tiesto started his transition into the Progressive and Electro House scene.  This is when Trance artists started to incorporate some of these elements into their songs to push or continue commercial success.  This “fusion,” if you will, was also pushed by one of the big names in trance: Above & Beyond.  This is what they dubbed “Trance 2.0,” a shift from Dutch trance days to a fusion of house and trance, where the primary difference is trance’s breakdowns (although accentuated by house synths instead of the melodies from years ago).

All of this brings us to today.  We have another war on our hands.  While it’s too early to really name the camps, I think it boils down to “Trance 2.0” versus “Pure Trance.”  I should note that I’m talking here about the mainstream trance image.  There will always be the Psy/Goa/Acid movements.  There will always be the Big Room or Uplifting Groups.  There will always be the Tech Trance or Progressive Trance movements.  But when it comes to sheer popularity, this is where we are.  Simply put, the question is should we move towards a House/Trance fusion, encapsulating the patterns of trance with the commercial success of House right now?  Or should we return to the roots of earlier “Modern Trance,” one where the focus was on the music after the Dutch Trance Commercial Peak, especially since now that the main spotlight of EDM is off of Trance and onto Dubstep and House?

I think both movements have enough artists behind them that we won’t just see a shift in sound; we’ll see another split.  We saw Classical Trance split into Progressive and Psy Trance due to the differences between artists in the scene.  I think this time we’ll see Fusion Trance split into Trance 2.0 and Pure Trance (or whatever we end up calling these eras later on).

I think that the next 10 years will start with this split.  I think the Trance 2.0 crowd will continue to be infused with House elements, creating some recognized “fusion” of the two, perhaps even a new genre entirely.  I think Trance, on the other hand, will try to maintain the limelight as much as possible, but within 5 years or so fall back to trance enthusiasts only.  Mainstream music, especially in the United States, has a very short attention span.  In the past 10 years alone we’ve gone from Boy Bands to Crunk to One-man bands to Rap to EDM/Pop infusion.  I don’t expect that EDM will stay at the top for the next 10 years.  Sure, some people will continue to follow that style of music, but for what’s played in Top 40 radio? It’ll shift.  And perhaps in 5 years with the spotlight off of trance’s face, we’ll lose some of the #trancefamily members who cling only to a fad and not the music.  Perhaps we’ll have another Renaissance of Trance music, one where Electro Anthems don’t make a Trance Top 20 (I’m looking at you #trancefamily and “We Are Hear To Make Some Noise”).  An era where we get back to the pure roots.

But we will see change.  Newer artists will start to dominate with their compilations and radio shows, while current hit artists will fade into the history books.  I’m just hoping we see changes for the better.

Would you recommend this album?

Maybe.  If 2012 paled to what Armin could produce and mix, then 2013 took it down a few notches.  The only reason to have this album would be to have access to some of the tunes that will define the mainstream world the next few months and even into the Top 20.

I’ll say this much about the ASOT Top 20 Countdown for 2013: #trancefamily can go and disband itself if D# Fat makes it into the Top 20.  Or “The Code” for that matter.  They’re so far from trance it’s absurd.  And they aren’t even halfway decent tunes (unlike “We Are Here To Make Some Noise.”

Unfortunately I have the sneaking feeling that Armin will release an artist album later this year.  Which means, unfortunately, the end of year countdown is going to be Armin’s Artist Album Episode with maybe a few other tunes thrown in.  I’m depressed already, and it’s only February.


%d bloggers like this: