donderdag 31 december 2015

Year Review: Razor Top 30 2015

Top 30 Feature | December 25th - December 31st 2015 |

The great show that was 2015 is about to drop its curtains as we all look ahead to a new year with new challenges, new hopes, new hurdles to overcome… Let’s take just one look back at the past 12 months and review it in terms of music. In today’s In Retrospect feature I will deliver my biggest review of the year as has been the tradition since 2012. It’s been an interesting year with a certain type of Trance being embraced on an increasing scale again. After the relentless storm of Bigroom pitches, snare climaxes and farts, I have to say I find this Retro-flavour making a welcome return and I hope it will serve as a fertile soil for a new cycle in Trance music that will lead to some innovation I don’t have to frown upon. Anyway, this is going to be another loooooooong read so sit back, take a sip of your coffee (or tea if you’re one of “those” people) and get ready for a festival of words. Let’s start by mentioning the tracks that didn’t make it to my final 30 in the end.

This year’s Honorable Mentions go to:
- Adam Bayer & Ida Engberg - Unanswered Question (Original Mix)
- Aevus vs. Nickelson - Scorpio (Epic Journey Mix)
- Airscape vs. Peetu S - Pianomatic (Airscape Festival Mix)
- Armin van Buuren feat. Eric Vloeimans - Embrace (Extended Mix)
- Artur - Rays (Solarstone Retouch)
- Blake Jarrell & Jeff Varisco - Carrolton (Original Mix)
- Crown Duels & DrDr - Easily (Jody Wisternoff Remix)
- Darin Epsilon - One Thousand & One Nights (Original Mix)
- Grum - Something About You (Original Mix)
- Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygene [Album]
- Jean-Michel Jarre - Equinoxe [Album]
- Jean-Michel Jarre - Chronology [Album]
- Jody Wisternoff - Shivvers (Original Mix)
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR - Hemera
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR - Sparkle
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR - Wasteland
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR feat. Fisher - Save Me
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR & Evil Sardine - SHO118131
- Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR - Mother Computer Z
- Max Graham - Airtight (Henrik Zuberstein Remix)
- Orkidea - My Sunset
- Orkidea - Dreamers Of Dreams
- Orkidea - P:Machinery
- Orkidea feat. Sami Uotila - Strange World
- Orkidea - Redemption
- Orkidea & Activa - Z21
- Orkidea & Guiseppe Ottaviani - North Star
- Paul Thomas & Shadow Of Two - Lucir (Original Mix)
- Peter Steele - Mantra (Henrik Zuberstein Remix)
- Philthy Chit - Dichotic (Original Mix)
- Pure NRG - Era (Original Mix)
- Raigen Smash - Tome Of Justice (Original Mix)
- Sacha Carrassi & Mikael Jonasson - Void (Original Mix)
- Shadow Of Two - Memories (Original Mix)
- Tellur & Ellez Marinni - Tea & Lemon (Original Mix)
- The Thrillseekers vs. Sam Mitcham - They'll Never Know (Original Mix)

Razormane Top 30 2015 [Order by how I’d mix them if I were a DJ]

Eric Prydz - Opus (Original Mix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Raigen Smash

One of the tracks from my “September Super Batch” this year. Why the silly name you wonder? It was in September that I finally made sense on how to combine Pro.Beatport with their main Beatport site: I’d browse labels, artists and/or recommendations in Pro and if I liked the teaser, I’d move to the main site to stream the whole track, skim through it and decide whether it was indeed worth my hard-earned cash. This resulted in a September Purchase batch of 20 tracks that were each right up my street without any “turned-out-to-be-filler/waste-of-money” risks attached! Among those 20, Opus would grow into a firm favorite of mine. Funny though... When I first heard it, I thought it was a cool tune, and the BPM rising intro vs. the BPM decreasing outro was a fun gimmick. However, I didn't expect this to turn into such an addicting track with each play! The melody is so uplifting, so cheerful and it is only after a few plays I started to realize how brilliant that intro really is. The plucky lead takes 03:43 minutes to reach the climax that introduces the beat, at which point the building tension has fully absorbed you into the track. Nearly FOUR minutes you are caught in this hypnotic melody that gets backed by more subtle layers before that supreme moment of release. I can only imagine the sheer shockwaves this track must sent during a gig as 100s if not 1000s of people around you are caught in its web. This track is so happy, playful and it is a track to be grateful. A defining record for what I've experienced as a melodic 2015. It is so simple yet SO effective... Prydz does it again.

Yotto feat. CAPS - Wondering (Original Mix) [2015]

This was my second encounter with Yotto (the first is a few tracks ahead). His timing was sublime: with Autumn rearing its grey head and my annual “Autumn Depression” kicking in, this track’s lyrics and overall mood were an instant hit for me. Fun fact: the reason I found this track was because in my September purchase batch I had bought Yotto’s remix for A&B: I loved this batch SO MUCH, I tried to replicate it by trying to find tasty productions by a few of the same names, provided they had any new unheard material for me. I know, silly reason to get a track xD Anyhow, this track had a very trippy vibe so I decided to buy it. When during a few grey days it came by whilst I was on my way home/to family, it struck the right chord. Very mellow atmosphere, and the male vocal is superb! I especially love the “Woo-hoo-hoo-hooooo” parts… The track’s lyrical content also matched my “feeling lost” mood in those couple of weeks prior to December. I love how this track has a few groovy Housey elements whilst also having a dreamy feel to it. Progressive House at its finest. :) And Yotto hits me with two gems in less than a month time!

Mauro Picotto - The Whistle (Original Mix) [2015]

This was another track from the September Super Batch. Last year Mauro made it into my Top 30 as well, albeit was a Classic through the highly relentless and energetic bomba fatale called Kebab. This year however, the Italian Legend seduced me through one of the most catchy tracks I would hear all year. It’s built on this hook that keeps going throughout the entire track, backed by some catchy drums and snares that appear here and there, hinting at Mauro’s Techno background. At one point you hear a lead being whistled (yup, that’s where the title comes from!), backed by a jazzy piano. Damn! This track is swingin’, groovin’ and makes me wanna jam in dimly lit jazz café! Can’t stop bopping my head and tapping my foot! And that’s how it’s been since September really. It reminds me of his 2006 album, the clubby CD, though instead of Electro-infused grooves, this has Housey influences all over with a whiff of Jazz for that extra funk. Highly addicting, super-groovy and definitely one of the most memorable 2015 tracks for me. I salute you, mr. Picotto!

Kasper Bjork feat. Sisy Ey - Apart (Michael Mayer Remix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Jody Wisternoff - January 2015 Intensified

I’ve been a REALLY bad Intensified Disciple this year. :< MASTER JODY, FORGIVE ME! Luckily for me, I was still able to claim a gem from the few Intensifieds I heard through 2015. The risk of finding a favorite in the first quarter of the year is that you end up overplaying them so that by the time you have to compile your final 30, you end up leaving them out because you get sick hearing them again. Guess what? This was one such track with exactly the scenario I just described. :’) It’s weird though… I am the first to admit that this track is actually very monotone, both production-wise as lyric-wise. It has a few core elements that alternate over and over but yet it appealed to me instantly. This has to one of the most hypnotic House based tracks I’ve ever heard. That lead keeps going on and on and on and on but it’s so entrancing you just want to be sucked into its hypnotism. And that vocal is so damn sexy, I really don’t mind her saying the same lines over and over again. There is something highly captivating about the present elements… And then there’s that surprise near the end (06:58) where she suddenly sings something different: I got goosebumps from that part more than once! All in all, a bit of a monotone affaire but despite that it’s also one of the more unique Housey tracks I’ve heard in the past few years. Defined the first half of 2015 for me so it deserves its spot among the final 30 imo. And yes, I am well aware Beatport tags this as Techno. It just doesn't strike me as Techno though. Call me stupid if that settles things.

Jody Wisternoff feat. Sian Evans - The Bridge (Chicane Rework) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Rothma - Sacred Ruins #044

The opener of the best Sacred Ruins episode of the Year. You know, I am not the biggest Chicane fan. Matters weren’t helped by a horrendous Pop-band-infused performance at Armada at ADE I attended back in 2009. Oh, and remember when the Timeless Beauty of Saltwater was ravaged brutally with that monstrosity known as the “Bruised Water” mash-up? If there is one sure-fire way to get on a Mane’s bad side it’s destroying instrumental Glory with Poppy bla vocals. Anyway. Back in 2007, I heard the full version of Saltwater for the first time when Armin played it as an ASOT Radio Classic: before then I had only heard the radio version. Coincidentally, this year I had been using my 2007 Yearlist as a main list for when I was on the road for a good 3/4th of the year. The first half of this SR episode managed to fit in with the nostalgia of that Yearlist and well, when you listen to this The Bridge Rework, the first track it should remind you of is Saltwater: A mellow, minimal melodic groove with choir-like vox backing the melodies to capture the late-summer melancholia… Logically this track grew into a firm favorite in a matter of days. This track set the tone for the mellow mood of this SR episode that would end up enchanting me. Impressive, Chicane. One simple reference-remix at the right time and it’s a homerun out of the Mane Park. Kudos.

Above & Beyond feat. Gemma Hayes - Counting Down The Days (Yotto Remix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Rothma - Sacred Ruins #044

The second track in what was without doubt my Sacred Ruins of the Year episode. This track came at just the right time. For some reason something about its mellow mood and soothing vocal reminded me of the Progressive style on ASOT back in 2007 and since I was in 2007 mode already… Yup! Another instant-fave. Had a bit of a rough period between October and November; doubts, agitation and pessimism being the dominant feelings holding me in their grip... So at one moment I was sitting outside, feeling lost, staring into the sky when this track came by and Gemma started singing about "black clouds of doubt". Even though the lyrics are about a love struggle and not a life-in-general struggle it still did something to me. There was this strange ambiance to that moment... As if the "Music" itself was trying to tell me something, telling me to calm down. I recall being stopped in my negative thought flow and smiling for a bit. From that moment onward, each time that particular kick-cymbal duo started playing I knew I was in for a soothing, mellow trip that would temporarily get my mind of negative things. This first encounter with Yotto has been a memorable one. A fantastic production. Pay attention to how the bassline is a present element without disrupting the laidback grooves of the production as a whole... Those sublime strings… The total picture… Nothing but praise for this one!

LoQuai & Ewan Rill - Beat Meditation (Cream And Deep Fog Remix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Beatport’s Progressive Chart

So were in the final quarter of the year when Beatport decides to show of that “Progressive” is not an alien term for the infamous dance music platform. They put up a chart featuring some delicious Progressive tunes featuring, deep atmospheres, funky flows, gorgeous melodies, etc. I take stroll through this chart and end up running into this one among others. Then, as usual with a Progressive gem, on one grey afternoon on the road it comes by. Being a bit tired and spacing outside of a window during a tram ride I am suddenly aware of the beautiful nostalgic melodies entering my ear, soothing my mind yet making me LONG for something from the past before its laidback beat returns and the beautiful melodies fade, giving way for some tender pads as the percussion takes center stage. Slowly but surely the break’s melodic elements return, though the most prominent lead stays away, adding to the almost agonizing sense of longing. Yet another track that found its way to my ears at the right time. Truly one of the most beautiful Progressive tracks I’ve heard in recent years… Could easily have been featured by artists ranging from Airwave to Markus Schulz (his annual Sunrise Set for instance).

John O'Callaghan presents Henrik Zuberstein - Caves (Original Mix) [2014]
- Found it thanks to: Andrew Sharpe

After the beautiful Prog gem known as Beat Meditation, we turn our attention to more Proggy goodness. Quite simply a stellar discovery for my music collection. Once again I was reminded of the beauty of 2007 Progressive when tracks like Rex Mundi - Perspective and Desillusion taught me to open my mind to the deeper, trippier atmospheres in dance music. I had never expect JOC, known for his banging uplifting and relentless Joint Operation Centre wrapped Tech Trance to be capable of crafting such a lower BPM range masterpiece. Once you come to love this track, I am positive that the first smile it gives you once shuffle pics out again is at 7 seconds when that gentle... Clarinet/flute like melody starts playing. Though it could also be the moment that "Coldharbour" bassline emerges and starts massaging your eardrums. When people speak of Progressive in regards to Dance Music, THIS is what I instantly think of. A deep, firm bassline, lots of echoing, trippy short melodies in higher octave ranges, absorbing pads that make you envision flying through the clouds or over the sea during a full moon light... This is deep. It is melodic. Entrancing. Dreamy. Relaxing. It calls upon your aural sense to take it all in and not resist the sense of Trancified bliss it will evoke in you. Sensational stuff.

Deepcry - Peak (Original Mix) [2015]
[https://pro.beatport.com/track/peak-original-mix/6982466]
- Found it thanks to: Rothma - Sacred Ruins #045

This Rothma guy is turning out to be for 2015 what that Rok Hecl guy was for 2014 eh? Jokes aside, Roth sure knows his stuff. This track was selected for nearly one reason only: DAT BASSLINE. I am a SUCKER for a killer bassline and Peak utilizes one of those pounding Prog basslines that bring out this primordial joy in me. It’s not that the production as a whole isn’t captivating or well executed but that bassline is just really something else… The bass keeps teasing you over and over during the first 3 minutes. At 03:18, when the track has reached a significant level of contained energy, a vox sample exclaims “Just wonderful!”. Hey! My thoughts exactly. The breakdown reveals a lead I can’t really explain in words… I’ve heard that sound before somewhere, but can’t put my finger on it. The break doesn’t move into a clichéd snare-roll infested climax but when the “drop”, eh, drops, the bassline is deployed in full energy mode, urging you to bust a move. What a groove! Yet so Trancey… AND GAWD… DAT BASS! TOO good…

Airwave - Vega Shining (Original Mix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: GDJB with Rank 1 Guestmix

Another busy year for the Belgian Legend. Gaijin, A Touch Of Grace, Sadness In Black & White, Vega Shining, Dancing Desperado & more were his biggest releases without doubt and what I've loved about Airwave this year is the diverse approach to his releases. Vega Shining & SIB&W have been my personal favorites of the lot and especially the former has a vague "Proglifter" feel to it, presenting a different approach to the way his melodies have been for a while now. This melody in Vega Shining fits the mellow final months of the year perfectly, imagine a cold winter afternoon at 17:00ish as the sun slowly goes down… Truly sublime. I first heard this track in the GDJB episode that featured Rank 1 as a guest this year. When this track came on, I was like: “DANG! What a melody and drive!”. Turns out it was none other than Airwave! What’s even better is that during Rok Hecl’s Visions Of Sound #005 live show, I got to hear the breakdown (Markus cut that out on GDJB) and so I got treated on this Glockenspiel variant of that great melody. I love how this track has such a strong “on the road” vibe to it, tracks like that always make me want to jump on a bus or tram and just travel all the way to their final destination as I pass by hundreds of unknown faces and the sun slowly goes down… Oh yeah… B|

Lakros - Starshine (Original Mix) [2015]

I am so happy to see this release on High Contrast Recordings! I feel they’ve had a very nice 2015 and I can’t remember the last time I bought and enjoyed so many productions from them. Not saying all those releases necessarily live up to their legendary 2005-2010 discography but for me High Contrast was essential in helping my appetite for Dance Music grow so I’ll always have a soft spot for them… Now, on to Starshine! What we have here is yet another track reminding me of glorious 2007. That techy stab at 00:31 in combination with its almost “The Blizzard-ish” lead at 01:15 and the overall melodic mood with a groovy touch is something that Armin could have dropped in the first hour of ASOT back then. The track has a short “preparation” breakdown shortly before the 3 minute mark, which reveals the track main lead: a rather simple one that mostly stands out due to the elements around it. There is something slightly mid-‘00s Jaytech/Anjuna about this track come to think of it! The breakdown is soothing, the strings lovely but I am going to have to say that this… There is one thing I dislike about this track: the “horn” introduced in the breakdown. It sounds false :/ I don’t know if the pitch of this instrument was off or if something with the semi-tones was not in accordance with the rest of the track but it’s a bit of a blemish on an otherwise beautiful late summer/early Autumn tune. Still, I will look the other way for the occasion. This track is SO 2007ish, it deserves to be here!

Mark Sherry - Vengeance (Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR Remix) [2015]

Two months ago I reviewed Leon’s WSTLNDR - Atmostopia album: [http://razormaneofficial.blogspot.nl/2015/10/album-review-leon-bolier-wstlnder-atmostopia.html]. Like I said there it was a great album to effectively deal with the autumn blues. The album put me in a tight spot however, since it give me yet more choices to make over what to add or leave out of the final 30. In the end, I decided to leave album tracks out and focus on a different WSTLNDR track altogether. Another tune from my September Super Batch, this particular WSTLNDR production stood out for me because it was Techno/Tech House oriented, and as such, was a reminder of Leon’s brilliant Techy madness from 2006-2011. Atmostopia had some gems on it but I feel this track is the best modern rendition of my favorite of Leon’s old styles. There is a minimal approach to it, and overall the track has a deep Progressive feel to it, whilst echoing fx are sprinkled over the whole production. The percussion is right up my street too, it’s firm but not too dominating. The build-up synth that only teases for the most part is so typically Bolier, this track feels like an old friend coming home (pretty much like the Atmostopia album was). In the breakdown Leon deploys a thundering techno lead that swells in ferocity until the beat is dropped and it is unleashed with full power… THIS is why I admired this guy for the majority of half a decade. And I am absolutely delighted to see him back blowing my mind (and eardrums). I sincerely hope that more people will turn to the techier side of things in 2016... We’ll see. Big respect, Leon.

Stephen J Kroos - Stax (Original Mix) [2015]

When I heard this version of Stax (first one I heard was the Napalm & D-Phrag Remix on Solaris International back in January or February), the only thing going through my mind was “HOLY SH*T, it’s Formalistic Part 2!!”. The original Formalistic defined Autumn 2006, whilst the Leon Bolier remix of Formalistic was a huge fave in the late summer of 2007. I know it’s slowly becoming a cliché for this Top 30 that entries are so strongly tied to 2007 memories but I guess that’s what happens when you relive a Yearlist from the past in a given year. That main lead is so Detroit Techno-ish with its short & quick chord progression: let’s face it, I’ve ALWAYS been a sucker for that sound/type of lead. And Kroos delivers an absolute belter of a Tech House gem. The first minute and a half is merely reserved for the percussion and fx preparing you for the groove that is to follow. A short main lead tease leads to some trippy pads as we slowly approach the breakdown. At 02:37 the main lead reveals itself and is backed by a higher layer as fx slowly start swelling in the background. The main lead then starts “stuttering through itself” for the final measures as the climax is reached with a quick drum hit at the peak: If at 03:59 you aren’t dancing your ass off, then something must be seriously wrong with you (or perhaps Dance Music just wasn’t made for you). Fantastic record!

Sander van Doorn - Oh, Amazing Bass (Original Mix) [2015]

SvD is another former fave that is slowly winning me back… I wonder if Sander’s new motto to Dance Music life goes something along the lines of… “I don’t always return to my roots but when I do, I blow your f*cking mind”… I mean, an SvD tune breaking into my Top 30 in two consecutive years AFTER 2011?! That’s a feat deserving of a standing ovation. It´s ironic though, the need to make such a big fuss out of a great SvD tune if we consider this guy used to rank as an undisputed Master Producer for me throughout 2005-2010. If I recall he made into my Top 30s each year with relative ease. Perhaps my standards have sunk or I have become so desperate to hear something solid from him again that when I do hear something enjoyable, I blow it out of proportion… But damn it, having played this track on a regular basis in the past three months, and having gone into a frenzy every time it came by surely means mr. Ketelaars did SOMETHING right, right? So let´s take a closer look at the production at hand. What we have here is Tech-inspired Dancefloor destroyer. It starts off some simple yet groovy percussion and a self-explanatory bassline that “drips” like an acid preset. Tasty groove as we slowly head into a phase that has more fx flowing in and out including some tuned down pitch-raising elements. 02:33 is when you know shit is about to get serious as Sander gets this Techno-piano ala Mainx - 88 To Piano swelling with a submerged bassline and kick raising alongside it until this whole is unleashed at 03:34 with an insane force. Such an energetic release!! Is this really the Sander whose tracks I used to adore? *blinks* Yes… Yes, it’s him! It’s the guy that used to mix Techno, Tech Trance, Progressive and Electro like it was NOTHING! You can imagine that if Get Enough already felt Top 30 worthy, this is a step ever closer to what I consider the “Real SvD”. 2015 has been good to anthemic Trance but I hope that more producers will show their once techy colors once more, much like Sander is doing right now. Tracks like this one, Rage, Ori Tali Ma, Get Enough and THIS aren’t necessarily surpassing his old style but what they ARE doing (imo) is mixing Tech(no/Trance) with hints of Bigroom in a proper manner. The only thing missing in this resurgence of a truer SvD is the length of his tracks… 05:15 is rather short, even for this type of dancefloor heavy music… Aw well, all in due time. Sander returns among my fave tracks of the year with an absolute belter. I sincerely hope he can keep this up next year.

Hazem Beltagui - Light Painting (Original Mix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Rothma - Sacred Ruins #042

Master Roth’s amazing track selection strikes again. You know how I can’t resist those dramatic melancholic tunes, right? So imagine what I was going through when I was listening to this episode of Sacred Ruins when suddenly this sad mood takes over. This track reminds me of Kerli - Walking On Air (Armin van Buuren Dub Mix) mixed with Richard Durand - Papillion, two dramatic/melancholic/sad tunes that both made it to my Top 30 2008 (see how far back my love for this type of mood goes?). Light Painting takes a bit of the synth/chopped note style from the WOA remix whilst also utilizing an incredibly bouncy and funky kick/bassline combination ala Papillion. However, whereas Papillion was more minimalistic and the WAO Remix was strongly influenced by Deadmau5, Beltagui has plenty of touches to give this track its own unique feel. The use of pads and strings alongside that addicting main synth add to the feeling of being completely lost/defeated. The sadness in this track is almost overwhelming, perhaps a tad bit depressing at times. I find it irresistible really. Fun fact; I heard it over the course of the summer, in a period I was pretty “zen”. Imagine how fitting this track became over the course of Autumn. This is the second time Beltagui makes it in my Top 30 and I have to say he does with melancholic artillery once again, albeit opting for the dramatic/sad variant rather than the bittersweet/homesick one. To have mastered both styles with such class deserves praise. Well done Hazem!

U.N.K.L.E. - In A State (Original Mix) [2004 -Classic #4 of 2015]
[https://pro.beatport.com/track/in-a-state-original-mix/18963]
- Found it thanks to: Andrew Sharpe (indirectly)

A troubled piano-melody, as if something bad is about to happen, plays at a steady pace before slowing down to a single tone. Next, after a brief moment in which that last tone’s echo reverberates away an acoustic guitar starts playing followed by a man’s voice singing lyrics of a rather “pessimistic” nature. In the meantime a steady beat joins the fray and we are caught in a sad and heavily-nostalgic flow. Smashing drums and toms pass by whilst a background voice eerily fills the background. It as beautiful as it is unsettling and sad. The guitar loops in itself for a bit for the singing voice returns.

My mind is in a state
But all I need to do is change my pace
And I know there's fear to face
But happiness is found in its embrace

He then keeps repeating “this tiiiiime” whilst you hear a string tone starting to swell in the background. The beat returns and this string evolves into a beautiful melody whilst the “chaotic” percussion reappears to back this beautiful arrangement that almost has a bit of a ”James Bond opening theme” vibe to it. What an incredibly powerful nostalgic feeling! And the lyrics… So full of sadness, defeat and yet… Amongst all that darkness, hope. Much like Counting Down The Days felt like a track that was singing to me personally, this one, even more so, seemed to be about my struggling in that October-November period. The significance of this track was only strengthened by the weather outside. Everything about it made sense. If I hadn’t picked it as the final Classic of 2015, it would have been the most logical Tune Of The Year for 2015. No other track absorbed me and struck a chord so deeply like this one did. Classics are forever <3

Miltos Maris - Mora Ghost (Robert Vadney Remix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Rok Hecl - Visions Of Sound #003

Every now and then you hear a track that makes you go “WTF IS THIS??”. This was one such track. Rok played it in his VoS show and whilst I was listening to it, reviewing the whole episode and browsing, this one grabbed my attention somewhere in its build-up. There is a slight Union Jack/Terra Ferma/Art Of Trance feeling to the build-up because of this drum(?) like synth stab. The bassline is pretty fierce at one point whilst this haunting female vox sings something I don’t understand at all, but captivates me no less while an eerie piano(?) melody sets a menacing mood. At 03:01 beautiful strings are revealed and surreal images of an epic “final battle” setting flood my mind, a scene in which the protagonist wakes up, surrounded by chaos, struggle, fighting, death even. Trying to realize what is happening, the protagonist temporarily seems stunned by the images before snapping out of it and trying desperately to survive against the odds. This track is SO intense and those powerful saw pads after the breakdown in combination with that insane bassline, that eerie piano, that haunting female vox… It makes for a unqiue track and a wonderful listening experience. My single favorite, goosebumps-inducing element has to be that trumpet(?) during the whole main part from the first breakdown onward. The ONLY minor thing about this track is that the saws that kick shortly before and right after the second breakdown sound over compressed (not sure if that’s the right term) or at least they sound too “soft/faint” which prevents them from causing the goosebumps they would otherwise have been able to cause. It might be that reason that has prevented me from crowning this track my Tune Of The Year because as far as uniqueness or Stand Out Factors go, this track is #1. It’s an exhilarating record!

The Digital Blonde - Hymm (Original Mix)
- Found it thanks to: Rok Hecl - Visions Of Sound #002

The Digital Blond returns to my Top 30 with a track that earns its place through yet another positive association (yeah, yeah, shoot me!). The intro and build-up are typical Digital Blonde, taking their time to slowly suck you into its rhythm whilst deploying atmospheric sounds and smooth fx whilst doing so. Going by this first bit of the track you wouldn’t call this an instant Top 30 hit. However, upon reaching the breakdown TDB unleashes his intensely atmospheric pads, making you feel disconnected from the surface and floating high up in the sky. Then, with a master stroke, he lets these spooky synths ala O.T. Quartet - Hold That Sucker Down swell into the picture: at this point that climax comes much faster than expected! When it does, the track has turned into an incredibly addictive, epic affaire! Notice how the bassline subtly bends to back the notes of this main riff. Had The Digital Blonde not been a Vanguard of the Underground Trance movement, you can be assured that main lead would be MUCH louder. With Hymm however, he proves that “louder” doesn’t necessarily equal “better”. An epic production that has been a fave for the last few months and deserves its place among all these other fine gems imo.

Airwave - Sadness In Black & White (Part 1)
- Found it thanks to: Rothma - Sacred Ruins #046

Hey, it's Airwave again! Tribal beats kick off this powerful single that takes us through a deep build-up. A piano melody prepares us for a very emotional breakdown that's true to the title. The kick slowly fades into the deep, whilst the piano is soon joined by beautiful strings and a flute melody that lays a layer of nostalgia over the track. There is something sad about the breakdown, it could very well be set to the background of a cinematic scene in which characters say goodbye forever, or a beloved character is buried. Its rich in emotion and the melody is truly beautiful. Laurent does it again! Then, the melodies stop and nothing but the heavy tribal drums and beat return but slowly the piano shows up once more, carrying in its wake the beautiful pads and strings from the breakdown... Notice how subtly Laurent hides an acid synth near the main part's final measures. Genius.

Raigen Smash - Death Is Your Gift (Original Mix) [2015]

It has taken me time to stop making a distinction between established names and bedroom producers/DJs when both types of creators offer me with something enjoyable. Raigen and I have known each other for a couple of years now, originally meeting on the ASOT Forum. Last year he decided to start devoting his time to producing (he had made a few things prior to that but never as serious as now). Halfway through the year that devotion payed off into this incredibly fresh sounding Progressive Trancer which deeply impressed me. Being the humble perfectionist he is, he kept mumbling about the track not being “good enough” yet whilst even before the mastering phase and final pre-master you could hear this was something beautiful. Listen to the progressions in the build-up. A mysterious mood is crafted when in the first minute things get kicked up a notch. There is a reoccurring electro guitar that adds a special touch (it vaguely reminds me of Envio for some reason) whilst a gorgeous melodic violin like pad sets a mysterious mood until the Guitar leads us into the breakdown which is basically too parts. The 2nd part kicks of around 2,5 minutes with a delicious and catchy lead which (for me) defines the Raigen Smash sound: listen how the lead “sings to itself” in its final measure… Such a dynamic lead! The guitar returns to build into a climax whilst that main lead moves a bit more into the background. Then it smashes back in full force with a set of gorgeous backing melody layers that give this track it’s Trancey feel. The lead doesn’t sound that complex but the richness in detail and cleanness of each separate layer that backs makes this track a truly delicious melodic treat. And style-wise it’s hard to compare it to anything else I’ve heard. For me it’s a very fresh sounding track. I’ve had the privilege to listen to it a lot before its release and once it was released about a week ago, I instantly bought it. If you value proper Trance and/or Progressive, be sure to support this release: not because Raigen is a good friend of mine but because this is a quality piece of music and proper music should be supported in anyway possible!

Orkidea - Nana [2015]
[From the album ‘Harmonia’]

I first reviewed this amazingly addictive track from Orki's superb album here: [http://razormaneofficial.blogspot.nl/2015/05/album-review-orkidea-harmonia-june-2015.html].This track is SO addicting, SO happy, SO well put together yet SO simple! Just how does Tapio do it?! Now in general, I’ve always been a Trance fan to love regional influences, be they Mediterranean, Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin-American. There is something about African influences in Dance Music however that REALLY gets me going. Must be my African roots feeling the itch to make me bust a serious move. Nana has the tribal beats, African pads, Trancey pad melodies and stuttering Techy synthline to bring out the happiest in me. Perhaps a rather overdone gimmick to some or just a too simple track for others, Nana has turned out to be an undisputed highlight on the album of the year. Superb!

M.I.K.E. Push vs. Rank 1 - Zenith (Original Mix) [2015]

I first reviewed this great tune in the last month’s blogpost: [http://razormaneofficial.blogspot.nl/2015/11/single-review-mike-push-vs-rank-1.html]. As such I won’t be dwelling on it too long here again as my blog spends a disproportion amount of content on Rank 1 matters already. Suffice it to say this third collab between these Legends is a credit to both their discographies and comes much closer to Elements Of Nature than Juno did, as evidenced by Zenith making it here. This track has been my big favorite of the last two months and I believe it’s a track that fits every season of the year (at least, that’s what it will have to prove in the next two anyway xD). If these guys won’t do an album together, I do hope they’ll make a fourth collaboration. And hopefully that one will be a Universal Nation meets Opus 17 kind of tune. I’d probably die by the sheer Epicness of a potential collab like that but at least I’d die with a huge ass smile on my face. B|

Paul Thomas, Russell G & Kasj Trivedi - Fiji (Shadow Of Two Remix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Gaia Live @ Sydney, ASOT Festival #700

Seeing how addicted I was to this one during the first half of the year, it would have been a safe bet if you put money on this one becoming my Tune Of The Year. For a long time, it seemed that way until I overplayed it and noticed that great as it was, it couldn’t survive overplaying past that certain threshold… I encountered this Bigroom Trancey rework of a fun Classic through Armin & Benno’s Gaia performance in Sydney. I grew kind of addicted to that set over the course of a month and this Fiji remix was one of the highlights. It was my first encounter with Shadow Of Two and led me to other delicious tracks by them like Memories, Lucir and Rezeda. Memories missed out on the final 30 by a hair but if there is one other track of theirs I should recommend to you based on this remix, it would be that one. Now this is the remix of a rework of a Classic. If that main lead strikes you as superbly delicious and “oldskool” wrapped in big synths, that’s probably why. Regardless, after hearing the original Classic, I have to say that this track takes my preference as it packs enough “Umph” whilst keeping that tasty riff intact. A wonderful track and one of those defining records of the year.

Ferry Corsten presents Gouryella - Anahera (Extended Mix) [2015]

Get ready for a REAL cliché: I was ready to consider this one as my Tune Of The Year over the summer. In the end it didn’t reach that level but discovering a week ago that many ASOT listeners DID pick it as TOTY and Anahera actually won, left me dumbstruck. Is there actually hope for the Titanic called ASOT?? Anyway. I am impressed with how Ferry managed to make this sound like his old tracks if they had been released today. The melody patterns, arrangements, fx, and vibe all breath “Millennial Trance” into your ear. The build-up is SO recognizable… Just like they used to be in the past. Two minutes in, and we are introduced to the breakdown with a very sentimental piano-driven melody before Ferry unleashes one of his strongest traits, a Trance synth driven main melody that should raise the hairs on the arms of anyone that has ever (briefly) associated themselves with Anthem Trance. This is indeed Gouryella, f*ck! For Ferry to bring back an alias so old yet stay THIS close to it and yet manage to make it sound fresh is truly amazing. Remember when Armin brought back Gaia with Benno through Tuvan? Fantastic as I consider Tuvan to be, it was a completely different track to 4 Elements. But yeah perhaps it is stupid to compare a one-single alias revival to a four-single alias revival. Anyway, Ferry nailed it with Anahera and I sincerely hope he leaves it at this for the time being. He has announced that he will spin as Gouryella in 2016 and that sounds like a fun gimmick. But I hope he doesn’t start producing two new Gouryella’s a year now. He has proven to still Master The Art, so there’s no need to overdo things and litter the Gouryella discography with tracks that deviate from what it was meant to be. Anyway. In the end it’s all up to Ferry. I just want to take a bow for this superb track and say Thank You, to mr. Corsten. You really shut us up good with this one :)

Dimension - Origami (Original Mix) [2015]

The hype was SO real when Flashover started teasing us with this ID early in the year. People were so convinced this was a new Gouryella and all of us were looking for evidence that would lead this ID to Ferry. In the end, it only led to his label Flashover but it was actually a track by Dimension. Granted, had this track never been linked to Gouryella, its hype might not have been as fast as it was but in the end, even after we all found it was not by Ferry, this track didn’t lose its charm for me. Furthermore, I feel it was very much responsible for Ferry feeling the itch to make Anahera so… We get one incredibly tasty Gouryella lookalike that leads to an actual Gouryella follow-up that’s at least equally tasty and both more or less define Anthem Trance in 2015… How can one NOT enjoy so much positive madness in the space of a few months? :) The build-up has a very old-style Ferry-esque drive to it and its build-up motive very much reminds me of that earlier millennial Trance. The voice sample adds that “certain touch”. The piano in the breakdown is very millennial minded as well. The main lead itself actually felt a slight bit like Lemon & Ainar K meets Ferry to me, but Flashover all the same. The track climaxes into a great synth melody with a clear wink to the past. It’s a euphoric style I don’t always appreciate but Dimension did it right. The first quarter of 2015 couldn’t have been off to a better start me thinks ;) Without doubt one of the biggest Anthem Trancers this year and a deserved fan favorite throughout the year.

Salt Tank - Phoenix (Voices From The Fire Mix) [2015]
- Found it thanks to: Rok Hecl

Rok had been raving about this one for a while so when it finally was released this year, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I was not disappointed. Of all Classically inspired tracks that were released this year, this one (alongside Anahera) sounds the MOST like it was taken from the past and merely polished a bit with today’s mastering standards. The bassline is a testimony to that but even more so are those heavenly, trippy synths that join the fray starting at 02:09. Notice how gentle they are, yet draw your attention and fill the track, dipping it in a hypnotic flow you’d wish to go on forever. This style of production is a Lost Art nowadays with tracks needing to have some in-your-face element to impress. Now I enjoy my big riffs from time to time (you can hear that in some of my own productions) but this style of Trancer is just as great imo. Though I loved this track a lot from the first time I heard it, I didn’t expect for it to actually hold that exact same level for the rest of the year, which proves its greatness. Oh! Almost forgot that voice sample “From the ashes, rise the phoenix”. Epic. :) Also, 07:09, only the synths and the kick remain. I am used to percussion-based outro’s but I am happy to hear such a synthical track finish with its most defining element.

Orkidea - Harmonia [From the Album 'Harmonia'] [2015 -Razormane Tune Of The Year]

I first reviewed the title track of Orki's amazing album here: [http://razormaneofficial.blogspot.nl/2015/05/album-review-orkidea-harmonia-june-2015.html].After all these months one thing is clear: this track hasn't lost any of its charm, power or enjoyment for me. It's funny... It's not as if this is the very, VERY best melody I've ever heard from Orkidea or Lowland for that matter... Yet there is something about the very execution of the whole, the moment certain specific elements pop up and back each other... From the moment this track kicks in until it beat dies off, I am fully thrilled. And for Harmonia to have that effect on me all these months and plays later is quite a feat (for I could easily have grown tired/bored of it but I didn't). Like I said on Twitter at some point, if ALL high-BPM Trance was a delicious as this track, I'd easily be the biggest "uplifting Trance wh*re" out there: no generic beats/basslines, cheesy breakdowns or stale drops. This track kicks ass from the first all the way to the last second no matter how many times I hear it... There is only one thing left to do and that's put the Tune Of The Year 2015 crown on Harmonia's head. *Takes hat off to Masters Orkidea & Lowland* Absolute Trance Masterclass here.

Jean-Michel Jarre - Chronology (Part 2) [1993 -Classic #3 of 2015]
[From the album ‘Chronology’]
- The album it is from was recommended to me by Ericc B

A part of me is against posting seperate movements of JMJ's albums in this Top 30. The reason is that his albums are organic wholes which should not be cut in pieces. His earliest don't last longer than 38ish minutes either so cutting that up means giving away the grander context in which to fully appreciate them... That said, with Chronology (Part 2) I had not other choice but to mention it specifically. I decided to do so anyway for two of them I've heard across five albums (Oxygene, Equinoxe, Zoolook, Chronology & Magnetic Fields). In this case I was forced to do this because Dear. Lord. In. Heaven. What an absolutely bloodpumping, haunting, epic, adrenaline-rush causing, Larger Than Life piece of Music Mastery it is. I can't believe I have never run into this piece of brilliance much sooner... It's from 1993 and if I am not mistaken Jean had been inspired by the gradual rise of Dance music after it moved from Chicago & Detroit to Europe. You can hear a 4x4 kick drum (albeit more faint than we are used to nowadays) and percussion-wise the beat is pretty bald but what it lacks in that department, it more than makes up for through its incredible melodies and instruments. After the halfway point it even introduces this robotic voice that seems to murmur along the melody. The main organ is so mighty throughout the whole piece. In the final phase a choir joins in and for the very last bit, an electro-guitar sounding riff to top it of. It then descends into a range of echoing fx creating a sort of "Calm After The Storm" mood. This track, this Masterpiece is one HUGE shot of adrenaline. His Oxygene & Equinoxe albums impressed me but with this particular Chronology piece, Jean-Michel Jarre cemented his place among the artists I will forever respect and look up to. Everything I've loved about dramatic Trance music seems to have been captured in essence in this wicked piece... Phenomenal.

Baced! vs. Ace's Delight - Witness [2004 -Classic #1 of 2015]

Nine years ago my brother had acquired a couple of Trance Energy sets. I had just become familiar with some of Ferry Corsten's classics a couple of months earlier, so Ferry's set was a must-hear. Yoji Biomehanika I had heard of a little earlier however, due to my brother visiting Sensation Black 2004 or one of those Q-Dance related events that would often revolve around Hardstyle, Hardcore, Techno and sometimes Hard Trance. Anyway, I digress. One of the TE sets my brother acquired was by Biomehanika. And one of the highlights of that set for both me and my brother at the time was this rough Hard Trancer with a deep, demonic voice, a gorgeous emotional breakdown and a wicked plucked Trance lead. The moment the voice spoke "And now... Unite" was something that impressed me a lot with what followed. This was a track of epic proportions. The dramatic-melancholic style is something that appealed to me much easier than some euphoric tracks. This track brought the drama and the melancholia with a pounding beat and insane energy. Another fascinating element were the techy percussion stutters inbetween the first climax and the reprise. Sadly, we never got round to finding the name of the track until this year I was browsing Trance Energy sets on Youtube and I saw "Yoji Biomehanika - Trance Energy 2006" come by. I rememembered "that wicked ID!!" and took to Google to find the tracklist. Just a little bit later I found out that one of the most epic tracks from my first years into Trance music came from this Baced! who is also Ace's Delight. Being reunited with this old favorite was the first good sign for how 2015 was to turn out musically. As such, this track couldn't be anything else than the first of my Top 30 Classics this year. Baced!, I salute thee.

Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygene (Part 6) [1976 -Classic #2 of 2015]
[From the album ‘Oxygene’]

On my birthday this year my mother and sister got me the French synthesizer Legend’s albums Oxygene and Equinoxe. The next day, the first thing I did was listen to the former. To say I was excited was an understatement: I had understand through various Dance music artists (some of them legends in their own game by now) how JMJ was a phenomenon to them, an inspiration, an example… The few things I read about him listed him as a(n indirect) founding father of Dance Music in general, Trance music in particular. So yes, this was not something to be just excited about, this could very well be a defining moment, my life before-I-heard-JMJ vs. my life after-I-heard-JMJ. As I started listening to the CD, I was reading through the booklet. The story was probably written in retrospect but the whole sense of Jean’s Legendary ascendancy in the World Of Music, combined with the incredibly richly textured synthesizer based compositions I was listening to at the same time thrilled me to the max. I was completely absorbed in this Legendary Journey whilst my eyes took in its Legendary Story… Listening to this album simply exceeded my expectations.

Now like I said at Chronology (Part 2), picking separate movements from an album that’s supposed to be experienced as a whole, means doing a great deal of injustice to said whole. However, in the case of Oxygene (Part 6), I feel the damage is limited as the track is introduced as a more separate entity than the other parts on the album. Well then, why did I pick Part 6? It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment that I decided this piece would make it into my Top 30 but I feel that its mood had something bitter sweet, as if it’s a goodbye (not because it ends the album mind you). A powerful goodbye that yet manages to stay contained: there are sweeps and sound FX as if there is a strong wind blowing, a storm approaching… And the synthlines move into sadder arrangements at one point but overall they retain a sort of cheerfulness and playfulness to them that gives me a good feeling. Part 6 is capable of evoking a wide range of moods in a way the other Parts were not capable of which made it one of two essential JMJ picks for my Classics Of 2015. To think this composition turns 40 next year is just… Mindblowing considering how timeless it sounds up to this day. Incredible.

Shameless Self-mention: Razormane - Mane Festival Theme IV (Extended) [2015]

Yes I know. I must have hit my head to be putting myself here. I mean... What do I think am I, a superstar "DJ" or something?? Lulz. But yeah, I AM gonna mention this track as the curtain fall to my Top 30 this year simply because I have listened to it a WHOLE lot even after it was finished, I've enjoyed it so much since said completion and I am so happy with how it turned out. This is the fourth in my MFT series: where the concept started as a tribute to Sensation and Trance Energy, to me it has started to feel like "its own thing" and that's thanks to editions III & IV. III was dedicated to my brother but unintentionally, IV  has felt like a dedication to myself. Especially in the breakdown, where the melodies and moods breathe "hope", which was easily the most important thing for me throughout 2015 following the disaster that was 2014. Furthermore, even though I have a lot to learn about producing music, this track feels like an important step on the path of ever-improving. If you had told me years ago that I would one day make a track like this which I would end up enjoying as much as I did, I'd have laughed out loud and thought you were nuts. Here we are though! MFT IV is as synonymous to 2015 for me as the 30 tracks I’ve reviewed just now. And for me to create something like that myself without anyone's help... I am very proud of that fact and if that makes me arrogant or a Shameless Self Promoter, then so be it. B)

To Conclude…
If in previous years I was mostly craving for Housey and Progressive tunes, this year saw me grow hungry for mellow, melodic (Trancey) tunes again. In a sense this specific appetite couldn’t have had a better timing as 2015 was a year that many Trance-Heads-Gone-Bigroom turned (semi-)Trance again. Otherwise it featured a fair share of tributes to older eras in Trance music. Whether the first or second scenario applied, the highlight of this “back-to-the-roots” development were embodied by the likes of Anahera and Origami. I will admit I might not always have been as strict in my judgement of some of these nostalgic-sentiment tracks as I usually would have been, but nostalgia is a powerful sentiment and that rings especially true in my case. 2015 was a great for music, and a great year for Trance in particular. The Underground is always dishing out quality but if like me, you aren’t always in the mood for the deep, the complex, the “intelligent”, then 2015 still offered plenty of fun and beautiful tracks in the Trance department across a wide spectrum. Yeah, it’s been a fun 12 months music wise. It would be too early to claim that “Bigroom Is Finally Dying In Our Scenes!” but for what it’s worth, for the time being it seems that certain (once-)experts on enchanting productions seem to give more attention to those sweeping melodies and captivating productions we used to and perhaps now love more than ever…

If you are still here: respect that you were willing to read through this entire review! Thank you for your time, I hoped you enjoyed my stories and if I helped you run into some special gems, that would absolutely delight me. :D All that’s left to say now is Happy New Year! Let’s raise a glass with a heartfelt wish for music in 2016 to be equally enjoyable as 2015, if not better. ;)

Be safe and talk to you next year!

- Papa Razor

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