Review Summary: On his sophomore album, trance pioneer Brian Transeau manages to make his trademark sound more diverse and accessible without compromising on the quality.
Brian Transeau should need no introduction for trance fans or even general electronic music enthusiasts. Throughout the early ‘90s he created and co-created a variety of tunes under a number of different names and projects and went on to achieve moderate success in the UK club scene. But his first substantial breakthrough would come with the 1995 release of Ima
, an album many would argue remains his greatest and most recognizable achievement to this day. Trance music had been around for a number of years in some form or another, and indeed Transeau himself had contributed to its development in his early career, but Ima
marked the first big release that would start to shape the genre into the forms listeners are most familiar with today.
So how does one follow up a record of such magnitude? In BT’s case, he chose to continue innovating. His second album ESCM
or Electric Sky Church Music
, released in 1997, sees the artist polish and streamline the sound that made his debut album so successful, while also branching out into a number of other genres and styles. It’s this variety that makes it such a landmark album both within BT’s discography and the genre in general, rather than being a mere retread (or worse, a strictly inferior watered down version) of his previous album.
Make no mistake, this record still has progressive trance bangers such as ”Orbitus Teranium”, “Nectar”, “Content” and especially the classic anthem that is “Flaming June”, all of which showcase Transeau’s mastery of trance songwriting and composition. It also has a couple of brilliant, more relaxed vocal-driven tracks featuring the superb voice of Jan Johnston: the lush and sensual “Lullaby for Gaia”, as well as “Remember” which is sure to please any fan of uplifting trance.
But there certainly is more to this album than just trance. The opener “Firewater”, not unlike “Blue Skies” from his previous offering, features a powerful but strangely immersive vocal approach on top of a laidback breakbeat rhythm. “Love, Peace and Grease” is a more straightforward tune whose similar percussion wouldn’t feel out of place on a Chemical Brothers record. Then we have “The Road to Lostwithiel” and “Memories in a Sea of Forgetful” which clearly show that BT is just as comfortable in composing atmospheric and entrancing Drum ‘n’ Bass tunes as he is with his usual trance fare.
If there’s one moment where the man’s prodigious desire to experiment and push the boundaries falls flat, it would be the middle track “Solar Plexus” whose industrial leanings and use of heavy distortion stick out like a bit of a sore thumb, despite the track itself not being particularly bad. Still, this single misstep notwithstanding, it’s remarkable how well Transeau manages to blend these different styles of electronic music together while maintaining a cohesive atmosphere and feel all throughout.
All in all, ESCM
is about as good of a follow-up album as we could reasonably expect. If Ima
could not be topped, then the way forward must be to expand and diversify around it. So we have a blend of the new with the familiar, a record that is more interesting and varied, if not quite as monolithically awe-inspiring. ESCM
certainly showcases itself as a standout album in BT’s mighty discography, in the trance genre and in electronic music as a whole.