It’s funny. We all perceive things presented to us by what we have already experienced. I think in a lot of ways that clouds our judgement of things before we’ve even given them a chance. I can sit here and tell you what I think a certain movie is about before I’ve seen it because of who the director is or who the lead actor is. I can sit here and tell you I already know what a dance compilation will sound like just because of the DJs name on the cover artwork. I can also tell you that my assumptions can be wrong because I’ve pigeon holed those involved. As such, I actually thought I already knew what ‘Reflections’ by Paul van Dyk was going to sound like before I had even listened to the first track. Given that he’s one of the forefathers of trance, I expected to hear a set of trance tracks but what I heard was so much more. To be honest, we all judge a book by its cover, whatever that cover may be. And I shamefully judged Paul van Dyk to be just another typical trance DJ who was releasing another solo effort.
Paul van Dyk is one of those DJs/producers who is known the world over. In some respect, he is probably regarded as a trance icon. Normally, when I write a review, I’ll write a brief summary of the DJ’s work up to date. This time around I’ve decided not to do that because I don’t feel it’s necessary. Because this CD is who Paul van Dyk is today, not who he was in the past. Because this CD presents a man who is looking to the future, not living in the past. Because all you need to know about Paul van Dyk, you can learn from these thirteen tracks.
‘Reflections’ opens with ‘Crush’. An uplifting yet atmospheric trance track which has a much more mature sound and vocals that are used sparsely yet effectively. With ‘Time Of Our Lives’ and ‘Like A Friend’, we see a more chilled side of PVD. ‘Time Of Our Lives’ is so beautifully layered with violins and subtle piano riffs that it’s quite possibly one of the most haunting tracks that I’ve heard all year. John McDaid’s vocals only add to the soaring texture of this track. Likewise can be said for ‘Like A Friend’ with it’s smokey jazz like sound and layered melodies thoroughly enhanced by Jan Johnston’s vocals. Both tracks are mellow in beat; both are gentle in nature. This is definitely not something I was expecting from Paul van Dyk. We’re back to the uplifting, euphoric side of trance with the title track, ‘Reflections’. This is slightly tougher in sound but the melody is very Balearic and I can’t help but wish I were on a cruiser in Sydney Harbour during a mild summer’s day. Or at the very least, driving around in a convertible and feeling the wind on my face. An absolutely gorgeous track to hear and to feel. This is followed by ‘Nothing But You’, already known to most trance lovers as it was the first single released. Rhythmically energetic yet typically melodic in sound, this is probably the most poignantly personal track for van Dyk. The ethereal Norwegian vocals translate to “I have nothing but I have everything when I have you” which is also the dedication to his wife. If the truth were known, the romantic side in me can’t help but gush at such obvious love and devotion. A subdued sound is explored with ‘Buenaventura’ with its underlying darkness, which is heard through the full bass but overlaid with an upbeat melody. In my opinion, a nice transitional track that’s more progressive in sound with every listen. With ‘Homage’, once again an underlying energy can be heard with the soaring bass but its Jan Johnston’s vocals that make this track. The almost angelic vocals she adds give this track an euphoric feel but raising it beyond a typical peaktime track. In the broody ‘Never Forget’, the plush melody helps to create a luxurious atmosphere thereby achieving a haunting quality. For some reason, this track reminds of old black and white photographs by Man Ray. Initially simple yet full of complexities with each revisit. PVD explores a new sound with ‘Knowledge’ with its percussive, rolling drums. The beats are relentless but in a Chemical Bros/Underworld kind of way. In fact, it’s almost tribal in concept with the rap style lyrics giving it a primal feel. ‘That’s Life’ follows next. This particular track has a very progressive trance feel but the driving bass gives it a solid feel that would suit either a trance or tough progressive set. Once again John McDaid’s distinct vocals only add to the richness of this track. The next two tracks, ‘Connected’ and ‘Spellbound’, typify the PVD sound with their rolling almost percussive bass and melodic breakdowns. With ‘Connected’, the sound is deeper, the melody more unique and layered while ‘Spellbound’ is more energetic in rhythm but with a sweeping melody that makes you wish you could fly and further enhanced by Jan Johnston’s vocals. We come to a close with ‘Kaleidoscope’. Where ‘Reflections’ began with an uplifting beat, so it ends the same. A soaring, melodic track that suits Jan Johnston’s vocals perfectly. A fitting end to a truly inspiring collection of tracks.
From an overall perspective, there is not one track that I favour over the other. Each is brilliant on a singular basis but shine more greatly when heard together. I am not a fan of DJs releasing artist albums because quite frankly the expectations are so high that once the end result is released, the material can sometimes ends up lacklustre. It’s unfortunate that these DJs are so defined by the music they play in their sets, that fans expect them to release better tracks. In the end, while they may have sweated and toiled over tracks that represent them as a person, they are not always received with overwhelming acclaim. There are also DJs who should simply just stick to being a DJ. But after having listened to ‘Reflections’ I can honestly say that Paul van Dyk does not fall in either of these categories. He may be better known as a DJ but he is also equally a musician and producer. While he has stuck to what he knows, that being trance, he has matured and added a certain depth to that sound through the way he has interpreted melody in each track. At the same time, he’s stepped out of his comfort zone and created beautiful chilled ballads such as ‘Time Of Our Lives’ and ‘Like A Friend’. Not just that, he has explored a new sound creating ‘Knowledge’ with its tribal/breaks influenced beats.
Of all the female vocalists he could have used, he chose Jan Johnston with whom he collaborated on a number of tracks on ‘Reflections’. If there is one vocalist that is the voice of the trance generation, that voice belongs to Jan Johnston. Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations. Everytime I hear her vocals, I know I’m home, I know everything is as it should be. And there is no one that can do what she does. Her vocals are truly suited for trance and while there are those that may mock this association, I personally pity your loss of understanding. Enough said. While I know nothing of John McDaid, one thing I do know is that he is certainly a male vocalist to look out for. Without his lyrical input and vocals on ‘Time Of Our Lives’, it would not be the brilliant piece of music that it is.
Personally, I don’t care what Paul van Dyk has released in the past or whose tracks he has previously remixed. I don’t care that ‘For An Angel’ is one of the most distinguished trance releases ever. I’m not concerned with what style of trance he plays during his sets. What I do care about is what I’m listening to at the moment. That may sound very singular in thought but if I was to judge everything that I hear by what I have already heard then I would spend most of my time making comparisons between past and present. From my point of view, I think that’s just a waste of time when I could be enjoying what I have now and looking to the future. While I am familiar with his previous solo efforts, I don’t necessarily need to listen to them to know that Paul van Dyk’s signature sound has matured. With this in mind, ‘Reflections’ is a very forward thinking release by a DJ slash producer who has grown as an artist and therefore pushing the trance sound in a future direction. The proof is in his music. There is so much depth in these tracks whether they are the trance tracks that we know him for or the chilled moments that I didn’t expect. The melodies are luxurious, the beats are sumptuous. The vocals by Jan Johnston are the very thing that could reduce men to tears. I can’t begin to explain how surprised I was to find myself emotionally moved by ‘Reflections’ and enjoying a set of diverse tracks that I had mistakenly thought would all sound the same. As such, there are not enough words to express how pleased I am to have been proven wrong. From start to finish, all I heard was class, all I heard was what trance should be about but of late, has been lacking. For that, I have a newfound respect for Paul van Dyk.
There will come a time when I hear a trance DJ, whoever he or she may be, that will close their set with ‘Time Of Our Lives’. It may even be Paul van Dyk himself. That’s the day that my friends, and those surrounding us, will find me in a quivering mess in the middle of a crowded dancefloor. I can’t wait!
2. Time Of Our Lives
3. Like A Friend
5. Nothing But You
8. Never Forget
10. That’s Life