Review Summary: Thinking man's trance
I've always had a take it or leave it love affair when it comes to trance music. While there's no denying the fact that in a live environment the sense of euphoria that washes over is a very real sensation, back in the real world it just doesn't seem to carry the same weight to it. Maybe you need the hundreds of dancing and sweaty souls next to you; those like minded Saturday night kindred spirits adorned in glo bracelets, fingers pointing to the heavens, for that sense of “reaching a higher level” to work. Or maybe its just dependent on the number of chemicals that are working their way through your system for that to happen. But in the all seeing light of day trance always seems to come across as hollow, promising but yet ultimately, unrewarding. And yet the likes of Tiesto, Sasha & van Dyk have all made relatively successful careers out of its weekend beckoning sound; and there's no denying the affect that trance has had on the house scene as a whole, so maybe I just don't get it. So in my quest for off weekend enlightenment I stumbled across a group known as Above & Beyond. Now while this group have yet to attain the worldwide God like status of some of the genre's more illustrious stalwarts, they have managed to find themselves as messiahs in the Ibiza scene. Having remixed for some of the biggest names in the pop world, and in turn be remixed by many of their peers hasn't stopped Above & Beyond from wanting to expand their musical palette; thus as a result, Oceanlab was born.
Oceanlab is the collaboration of Above and Beyond with female vocalist Justine Suissa that, when paired together, create melodic dance music that evokes a interesting contrast of downtempo chill and full-out trance. While Justine’s vocals are not as strong as some of her more recognized peers, her delicate vocals do suit the laid back beats and the soothing tempo of the album tracks. Many familiar with the genre will recognize such epic trance songs like 'Sky Falls Down' and 'Clear Blue Water,' but this album moves away from the usual heavy dance floor trance sound and embraces a more ambient and laid back sound. On Sirens Of The Sea
, we find club friendly cuts like 'If I Could Fly,' 'Come Home,' and 'On a Good Day' which meld the trademark sound of Above and Beyond with more moody synths and soothing flourishes; almost designed as trance music to put you back on your feet after the comedown of a big rave.
Now it obviously wouldn't be a side project unless a new element was added to the equation, and the big addition here is the more chillout aspect to the overall sound. The majority of the tracks, while still steeped in the trance mindset, flirt with a more lounge like atmosphere; case in point being album opener 'Just Listen,' which starts with a gentle and sparse piano that builds a beautiful tone for the song that maintains itself through the album itself. The album mix of the club smash 'Miracle' is another example of a beautifully produced acoustic chillout track, that not only provides an interesting listen but also takes the song in a more intimate and thought provoking direction. Now the big pull here is obviously the lyrics; while they're not leaps and bounds above the standard trance fare, Justine does seem to go for broke and her performance helps elevate her thoughts higher into your consciousness. Instead of being relegated to a supporting role, her vocals are pushed foremost into the front, giving every song a very real feeling, and in the process making each track feel, well like a real song opposed to the sometimes suffocating feel of the quasi dance gospel anthems I'm used to.
Sirens Of The Sea
is an album that carries a largely varied tone with it, with an almost perfect balance of chillout softness juxtaposed with trance harshness, that as a credit to the production duo sit comfortably and amicably next to each other. While sharing more in common with house and its more “deeper” affiliates, it does serve its purpose as a comfortable beginners entry into the massive appeal that is the trance genre. Lucid and serene when it needs to be, and pulsing and vibrant at the right moments, Oceanlab have presented an impressive debut that hopefully will be built upon with further releases. While it may not have been the solid convincing I needed to delve deeper down the trance rabbit hole, keeping this as the only remnant of my musical journey will do just fine.