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I’ve Had a Good Time But This Wasn’t It

By Darcy M. | Music | June 24, 2009 |

By Darcy M. | Music | June 24, 2009 |

arminvanbuuren-a-state-of-trance-2009.jpgArmin Van Buuren: A State of Trance 2009

Preliminary disclosure: first, although I love electronic music, I am not a trance guy. I listened to some trance a number of years ago, but never really got into it as a genre. I recognize only two names on this album, one of them being Armin Van Buuren, himself. Listening to this album took me back to the disproportionately good soundtrack for the movie Swordfish done by Paul Oakenfold and other entry-level dance albums from high school (more on that below). Second, while I had heard of Armin Van Buuren, I had not actually heard him before listening to this album.

But while I may not be an avid trance follower, when I was asked to review A State of Trance 2009, I proclaimed that I was open to having my mind blown. In the past, I have had other albums recommended to me from genres of which I had lukewarm feelings which completely changed my opinion.

This is not that album. This is, actually, the opposite of that album. This album reinforces every reason I try not to listen to trance.

A State of Trance 2009 is the most ironically titled album I have ever come across, as it causes the reader to assume that the trance genre is 1) in a constant state of flux and 2) that this album captures the current state of the genre. Unfortunately, if the latter statement is true, the former is false, and vice versa: this album could have been made ten years ago because it sounds exactly like the fun but uncreative dance music I listened to in high school. I grew out of that music, longing for something more nuanced.

Van Buuren takes no chances in his song selection: the drums ramble on in a metronomic monotony. The synths are almost always light and clean. The melodies are American sitcom predictable. The vocalists’ voices are, without fail, female and, without fail, high-pitched. The lyrics are sterile and inconsequential and are usually just used to title the track. In short, unless what I just described is exactly what you want for 160 minutes, then don’t bother with this album, because there is virtually no variation.

Van Buuren’s transitions are smooth, but that’s not particularly hard when every single song sounds exactly the same. I’m keenly aware that almost all types of electronic music, to the untrained ear, can sound the same, but I have never heard a more monotonous mix album. For example, while about that half of the songs feature vocals, not a single song features a male vocalist. Not one. Aside from that, however, I can’t say that anything here is particularly impressive. I do have one technical complaint, which doesn’t necessarily pertain to Van Buuren himself: it is truly obnoxious when the point where a track begins or ends does not actually correspond with the song, which is currently playing, beginning or ending. Most of the songs actually end halfway into the next song.

The only standout song I can report is “Man on the Run”, the last song on the first disc. The song stands out because it is over 20 minutes long, but more because a different kind of synthesizer is used at the 17:30 mark (*sigh*) thus creating, if only for a moment, a unique sound. For the most part, however, the album is like a commercial radio station: while you may not know precisely what will be playing next, you have a very good idea. But I’m being picky because really the only thing that makes “Man on the Run” special is the pieces of fluff that surround it. And while the song itself isn’t all that good, it does something different, if only a little.

I’m trying not to be too hard on the genre of trance, itself. I know that there is good trance out there and I probably am missing out because I’m not paying close enough attention. Recently, Calvin Harris released the single “I’m Not Alone”. While Harris is not considered a trance producer, the song “I’m Not Alone” could not be considered anything but trance. I have to admit that I’m hard-pressed to figure out what makes Harris’s single so much better than anything on this album. But it is.

Van Buuren is frequently cited as being on of the best in the world of any genre, and this actually offends me as a fan of electronic music. There is nothing new on A State of Trance 2009. The music sounds exactly the same as the songs that were being played ten years ago. In fact, it was astounding to listen to this album and see the degree to which things haven’t changed. Barring the novelty of a musical time capsule, or the incredibly narrow criteria I describe above, A State of Trance 2009 is nothing more than a TV dinner.

Darcy M. spends his days with a gun to his head, reading esoteric modernist proclamations and cultivating vice in Edmonton, AB.

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