By: Ben Norman
Paul Van Dyk may be a name you’re familiar with. The German producer has won more awards than you can shake a stick at, including a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack for The Dark Knight. His career has spanned three decades and provided us with six studio albums, two remix albums, and, before his upcoming album Evolution, sixteen singles. It’s an expansive career, and you can only appreciate the level of dedication to his craft and amount of work he’s put into achieving the accolades he’s received thus far. Traditionally a trance producer, his style of music has shifted in recent years, most notably on his collaboration with ex-Pussycat Doll Jessica Sutta on “White Lies.” Elements of electro and house flesh out his music, so to call him trance at this point would be to deny these additional stylistic inclusions. Although it is unclear, on Evolution, whether this is entirely the case or not.
Evolution, firstly, features a lot of additional assistance from other artists. Whether through vocalists or producers, Van Dyk reaches out to many to allow him to create this album. And most of these collaborations are with fellow dance producers, giving Evolutions more instrumental tracks than vocal tracks. Don’t like vocals? Awesome, you’ll love the majority of this album then. Prefer vocals? Well… you may want to hold on to your Ferry Corsten album. Van Dyk collaborates with Austin Leeds on two tracks this go around. After the track “New York City” on Van Dyk’s 2009 album In Between (also featuring Starkillers), they must have enjoyed the collaborative experience. Their tracks on Evolutions, “Symmetries” and “Verano,” are as dissimilar from each other as apples and porch swings. “Symmetries” comes across as a desperate attempt to achieve the kind of instrumental success Avicii has with his tracks. In fact, “Symmetries” comes very close to sounding like another “Bromance” or “Penguin,” a distinctive and happily melodic instrumental track that would support a topline or mash-up vocal quite nicely. In contrast, “Verano” is intended for late night dance floor consumption, no overwhelming need for vocals or much remix attention. The bass and beats work well together, and give a good, if forgettable track.
Ultimately that’s how Evolution can be summed up. Good, if forgettable. For the most part, Van Dyk’s collaborations come across as underwhelming, even with some excellent talent when it comes to featured vocalists. The most attractive names involved with Evolutions would have to be Adam Young (Owl City) and Plumb, both no strangers to electronic music. But while both singers excel quite nicely in their own format, teaming up with Van Dyk seems to have left both singers uninspired. Their contributions to the album, “Eternity” and “I Don’t Deserve You”, respectively, fall short of all expectations. Adam Young’s subtle inflections are lost in a busier production than we are used to hearing him in, forcing him to push his instrument further than what I’m comfortable with. And “I Don’t Deserve You” is both bouncy and monotonous, almost pushing the idea that we have to have fun and feel sad at the same time.
The rest of the album is simply standard. Van Dyk teams up with Arty for a couple tracks, the mostly instrumental “The Ocean” and featuring Sue McLaren on “The Sun After Heartbreak.” “The Ocean” has some good emotional moments, but the breakbeat on “The Sun After Heartbreak” is distracting. Both “Everywhere,” with Fieldwork on vocals, and “If You Want My Love,” featuring the deep vocals of Caligola, feel disingenuous. Trance tracks “Dae York” (with Ummet Ozcan) and “A Wonderful Day” (with Giuseppe Ottaviani) lack conviction and distinction. These aren’t bad tracks, to clarify, but there is a lot better material out there to be found. These are standard, generic offerings and don’t add or subtract from the musical landscape.There are some standouts from the album though, tracks I may recommend to others. Van Dyk teams up with Tyler Michaud on “All The Way,” enlisting the beautiful vocalist Fisher. “All The Way” is simplistic but fun. Vocalists Sarah Howells and Michelle Leonard also provide excellently to their respective tracks, “Heart Stops Beating” and “Lost in Berlin.” And the nearly instrumental track “Rock This” has just the right amount of grunge and growl to give it some staying power. Together with “Symmetries,” put exactly one third of the album in the “pro” column.