As clich? as it sounds, the best music can take you to places in the farthest corners of your head or touch you deep down in your soul. Conversely, the worst music can sound like tired garbage or something not fit to play in an elevator.
Techno music often falls in these extremes. This is music meant for clubs and raves, so it already loses something being played out of a home stereo. Still, the best techno music can take you to a perfect all-night rave, even if it’s all in your head.
If he hasn’t made some of the best techno music of the last decade on his new album, Out There and Back (Mute), then German techno wizard Paul Van Dyk certainly has come close.
Generally, faceless producers create music spun at clubs, and the DJs get all the credit for the music they use.
Still, there are a handful of producers, like Armand Van Helden and BT, who are as well known as the DJs who spin their music.
Van Dyk is at the top of the list. Voted as one of the best music acts in the prestigious Mixman magazine, Van Dyk creates techno, specifically trance, music that is utterly mind-blowing. This is apparent in spades on Out There and Back.
Trance music can too easily just become the rave equivalent of Muzak. Pounding beats and rhythms with a skeletal – usually cheesy – synth-laden melody layered on top, the purpose of trance music is to get people moving and to lose themselves without having to pay too much attention.
Van Dyk is able to lift his music out from this. The rhythm and beats will get you moving, if they don’t, check if you have a pulse. But there are also enough hooks and moments in his songs to catch your ear and make you take notice.
The album is arranged as a DJ set, with each song flowing seamlessly into each other.
Van Dyk starts out slow with the opener Vega. There are some soft bubbling noises that float around the edges of the beginning of the song before a steady backbeat and acid bassline kick in. The track is not exactly high-energy, but it definitely captures the hypnotic feel of trance and slowly draws you into the album.
From here the energy level of the album steadily rises. Another Way has a steady, booming bassline that will force its way into your head. It’s here that Van Dyk’s ability to make hooks that fit into the songs becomes apparent. Midway through, as you’re lost in the rhythm, the melody kicks in. It’s a melancholy and beautiful pattern that makes you take notice and shoots the song into the next level.
There are these kinds of moments scattered all throughout Out There and Back. Moments that are hard to describe, but anyone who has been out to a rave all night, dancing, having fun, will instantly realize them. The ones that make you stop for a second, in the middle of all the dancing and lights and sound, and take you to another level.
Traveling has a funkier, electronic feel with its vintage synthesizer sounds – the sounds of 80s techno. The synthesizer gives the song a pulse most machine-music can’t achieve.
Avenue is one of the standout tracks on this album. It starts with a dark and sinister feel before overloading your mind when the melody lines kick in.
Tell Me Why (The Riddle) has a cold and futuristic sound that includes the breathy vocals of diva Sarah Cracknell, who produces club music with her band Saint Etienne.
This is music meant to be blasted from warehouse sound systems at 2 or 3 in the morning, but Van Dyk has the skill to make it sound just as good and vital out of your tiny home system without losing anything.
If you’re a techno fan, or just love getting dressed up and hitting the clubs, this album is a must-have for you. While it sounds like it’s meant for the DJ booth, Van Dyk and his perfect blend of the strengths of trance, electronic and techno, takes you out there and back to the best rave in your own mind.