Dez 26 2010, 17h40


Here we are again. Another 12 months have well and truly disappeared, another 12 months spent soaking up the world of electronic music.

On a personal level it’s been a much better year but, musically, a year where changing circumstance and focus have gradually altered by listening and scrobbling habits. That’s not to say that I’m listening to less music, just taking it in new ways. I’m listening to a lot more music on the move to and from work, so podcasts have become my main way of consuming new music. And with less time available for endlessly searching for new music, finding the best trance music for my DJing has taken priority over hunting for new albums from right across the electronic smorgasbord. In fact, my DJing has come on leaps and bounds this year, thanks in no small part to really making trance my main focus.

So with changes in my listening habits come changes in my obligatory review of the year journal. This year’s journal is a rundown of my favourite 10 albums of the year, and the hard dance, full on psychedelic and electro-house charts have made way for a full 50 track chart of my favourite trance records of 2010.

Let’s kick things off...again with the albums.


10. Armin van BuurenMirage
[September / Armada]

If the truth be told, 2010 has finally been the year where I have fallen out of the A State Of Trance loop. It’s just not on at a convenient time for me anymore, and the Podcast edition of the programme is barely 20 minutes long. I listened to GDJB a lot towards the start of the year and moved on to TATW, Identity, Tone Diary and the Gareth Emery Podcast as the year progressed.

But as always I sat down to listen to the ASOT Top 20 rundown. Frankly, I was utterly depressed by what I heard. 6 tracks from Mirage plus the original mix of Gaia – Aisha, which again showed the sheer level of brainwashing that is going on amongst Armin’s fanatical followers. It left me thinking, either I’m not following this scene as closely as I think or this annual Armin Van Buuren love-in just isn’t very representative of the year’s trance music anymore. I’ll let you decide which is most true.

Armin’s latest album offering, Mirage, certainly doesn’t boast 6 of the best 20 trance songs of 2010. If it did it would probably be sitting top of this chart and be one of the finest trance albums ever – it ain’t. Let’s get that straight from the kick off. What it is is a good, solid - if slightly patchy – album, which strikes a very precise middle ground between the understated vocal beauty and modest pace of 2008’s Imagine, and the more genuine trance music of the insanely popular Tuvan from 2009. It doesn’t quite feel as holistic and well rounded as Imagine, but by bringing back more of that big room, operatic synth work it feels much more representative of Armin’s sound as a DJ. The likes of Mirage, Orbion and Full Focus are more epic, more like the real ammunition needed to take his DJ sets and, more importantly, his Armin Only show to the next level.

Maybe therein lies Armin’s secret. His fanatical followers selected 7 of his tracks as their absolute favourites of 2010 because those tracks better encapsulated Armin’s formidable, almost mythical persona and made for even more enduring memories of his fantastic DJ sets.

Admittedly, some tracks do let Mirage down. The parts that sound more like Imagine don’t quite come off as impressively as you might expect – in fact, certain parts are downright bland. Other studio album offerings by the likes of Gareth Emery, Lange and Markus Schulz were maybe more consistent overall, but none of them quite replicated Mirage’s more brilliant moments.

Favourite Track: Orbion

9. Ali WilsonPhenomenon
[November / In Charge Recordings]

Being a fan of UK hard dance music, the name Ali Wilson is not as new to me as it probably is to some other people. Ali is another example of those producers who, having sensed that the UK hard trance scene they fell in love with had become a rapidly sinking ship, have made the jump to trance music. Lee Haslam made the move, as did Guy Mearns. Now Wilson has joined them.

And what is great about these 3 producers, especially considering that they do now fly the flag for the level of talent that existed in hard trance in those by-gone years, is that they have all found unique styles of their own. Haslam’s tracks are big tech monsters, Mearns pushes the big, melodic trancers, while Wilson has introduced a really refreshing concoction of carnival-esque, tribal beats and euphoric, uplifting breakdowns, something that Marco V has taken note of straight away.

Wilson has been a man on form in 2010. Pandora was a massive single back in March, a single that only narrowly missed making my overall Top 50 chart. And he also managed three fantastic remixes for Jochen Miller’s Humanoid, Armin Van Buuren’s Full Focus and Tony De Vit’s classic The Dawn.

Having been getting little tastes of his refreshing new sound all year, the album Phenomenon in November was not one to be missed. This album is from the modern school of Marco V and Sander Van Doorn but has its own native, primeval vibe. Tunes that work as well in house sets as they do in trance ones. In fact, they are the kind of ‘bridge’ tracks that likes of Sander and Marco love, allowing them to jump seamlessly from house to trance and back again whilst DJing.

Phenomenon has one track that lets it down: the atrocious, Become One. Seriously, Chris Jones should have quit while he was ahead with Going Wrong. But the rest is excellent and in the shape of Pandora and Absolute this album has a pair of absolute killers on it.

Favourite Track: Absolute

8. Asura360
[October / Ultimae Records]

With Ultimae Records you know you’re on safe ground. For consistency of output, you’ll struggle to find a label in electronically produced music that can hold a candle to it. The same goes for Asura. Those who have heard Life² and Lost Eden will know that we are talking about one of Ultimae’s most reliable artists.

Stylistically, Asura has always stood apart from the rest of the ambient pack in that it has always had a slightly biblical or apocalyptic feel to it. Not quite delicate or understated enough to even be called pure ambient or soundscape, and pushing gently towards progressive trance and some kind of dark, melodramatic trip-hop. And only very faintly psychedelic. That could be a very personal observation. That’s how I’ve always view it.

The new album 360 clearly aimed to provide some evolution. By splitting the album into 2 parts - Before and After – Asura was able to provide some more of the old in the first part, while show some versatility in the second. The second part of 360 is softer, more calming and slightly less tinged with that sense of prophetic doom that is such a feature for me on previous albums. Getsemani and Virgin Delight are good examples of how Charles Farewell has favoured a more ambient style but taken away absolutely none of the melancholy or elegance. Both the music and the way each part is named ‘Before’ and ‘After’ do give it a strong classical, film score feel and that works really well.

I absolutely love Asura and actually think the project is generally pretty underrated. But at the same time, his music is as challenging to listen to as it is rewarding. This new record is an 'easier' listen overall.

Favourite Track: Getsemani

7. Riva StarrIf Live Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade
[February / Made To Play]

House music in 2010 seemed to take quite a clear continental tribal feel in 2010. The bass driven electro house end of the market seemed to shrink significantly, while most of the big records seemed to be big on rhythmic Ibizan style drums and quirky, tongue-in-cheek touches. The record that most exemplified that this year was Yolanda Be Cool’s We Speak No Americano, which was played to death absolutely everywhere. But before this style exploded everywhere else, it was London-based, Italian born producer Riva Starr who really started the ball rolling in the February of the year.

If Live Gives You Lemons is typical of Ibizan house music, a very careful blend of rhythmic tech house, drum driven tribal, moments of minimalism and playfully curious sampling of vintage pre-War, jazz and traditional continental music. It was strange hearing this style finally hit the mainstream, even if its arrival proves to be short-lived. BBC Radio One did end up putting I Was Drunk on their daytime playlists, which I suppose is testament to how popular this style became in 2010. However, this was a good 6 months after If Life Gives You Lemons had been released and after We Speak No Americano had already made it huge.

Overall, Riva Starr’s offering was a fun and vibrant example of real house music.

Favourite Track: I Was Drunk

6. Progenitor - Electro bite
[February / Iono Music]

This deep, hypnotic gem courtesy of Greek duo, Progenitor was one of the few progressive psychedelic records I even got around to listening to this year. And I get the feeling that few in the same genre could have topped this all year. The production is solid, the atmosphere immersive and the sense of progression smooth and seamless.

But the magic of this album, particularly on certain tracks like Psychologic, is not where the beats fall, but where they don’t. Their use of gaps and rhythmic spaces is exceptional.

Not much to say about this album other than, it’s a ‘must check out’ for any fans of Vibrasphere, Tegma, Ticon, Day.Din and the like.

Favourite Track: Psychologic

5. PendulumImmersion
[May / Warner Music]

The third instalment of Pendulum’s genre smelting, full frontal assault on the public’s senses dropped in 2010 and I was as keen as anyone to know where Pendulum would go next. They were never going to change the formula too much; they have well and truly found their style now. And it’s a style you either adore or despise. It was simply a question of what they were going to add to the mix.

After a couple of listens I was pretty staggered about the number of elements piled into this new album, the sheer amount going on it. On top of the usual mix of drum & bass and rock, there were dubstep and deadmau5-esque house music influences everywhere, some clever use of sounds I’ve previously heard in tech house, progressive and even hard house records, plus the introduction of their first genuine attempt at metal with In Flames. And credit where credit’s due, whatever its faults, and it does have them, Immersion has to be the most comprehensive fusion of electronic and rock music ever produced. Never have so many elements of both genres been so seamless fused together.

But oddly enough, that level of comprehensiveness does not necessarily make it the perfect album, or even Pendulum’s best album in my opinion. In fact, pulling so much together and adding it to the already overflowing electronic melting pot poses its own set of problems. Rob Swire has done a great job fusing all these styles together but it was never going to be the most holistic sounding album given the challenge he set himself. Immersion is an album that gives you much more in terms of variety, diversity and gear changes that keep you on your toes but, compared to Hold Your Colour or In Silico, slightly less in terms of direction, consistency and overall quality.

An excellent album as always from the Aussie trio. However, at the same time, I hope people know what I mean when I say this album is almost more important as a milestone in dance music than it is good.

Favourite Track: Immunize

4. Kino OkoColours Hate Themselves
[May / Tribal Vision]

Discovering Kino Oko’s album Alphabetically Divided Highway in 2008 was something of a revelation. As I said at the time, it was by far the most innovative thing I had heard all year. I hadn’t heard anything like it and I haven’t heard an artist copy it since. It was delicate, it was intricate, and it was engaging; lulling, floating and bubbling with a strange fragile energy. Oddly, when I saw Magnuszewski had followed up ADH with the interestingly titled, Colours Hate Themselves, I had mixed feelings. I knew before I even heard it that it would be Alphabetically Divided Highway episode 2 and part of me worried that it would just pick at the debris of its predecessor and never quite scale the same dizzy creative heights.

I was wrong. If anything, Colours Hate Themselves takes this unique melting pot of bleeps and synth lines to the next level. Sounding even more carefully layered, dazzling with melodies that sound even more polished and serving up a mood that is even more engaging. Essentially, it is the melodic upgrade of Alphabetically Divided Highway, an album that shows even more confidence in its own unusual style. And more of an electro edge on some tracks do make it slightly more accessible.

Once again, Kino Oko proves himself to be the EDM artist for the discerning connoisseur, a man with more creative juices than large handfuls of the dance music scene can muster between them.

Favourite Track: Rosalinda

3. Ananda ShakeThe World Is Yours
[May / Noga Records]

From an album of delicate subtlety to an album of thundering obviousness; an album pushing the artistic envelope to one that stays firmly in its pigeonhole. This psychedelic trance offering from the mighty Ananda Shake will undoubtedly turn the stomachs of psy purists, but I feel slightly embarrassed to admit that this is exactly, and I mean exactly, how I like my full on psy-trance. Pounding 145 BPM kicks, fizzing basslines, soaring melodies and as many clichéd movie samples as possible.

The thing that has always struck me about Ananda Shake, and it is even more a feature of this album, is that so many of the riffs they come up with seem to have such a weird, logically inevitability about them. You can almost sense the direction of every melodic key change before it happens; you know exactly what’s coming. And that seems to work, because it’s almost as if the melodies couldn’t and shouldn’t be any other way. That steadily rising main hook has a mind of its own and you and it are reading from the same page.

And The World Is Yours delivers what it delivers with a remarkable level of consistency. It’s an album that knows exactly what it’s trying to be and just gets on with it. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about it; it’s just a good old, full blooded, high intensity cheese fest done with as much production skill as psy-trance can summon.

Favourite Track: Jumper

2. Super8 & TabEmpire
[September / Anjunabeats]

Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats is certainly a juggernaut of a dance music label. Yes, it’s had its dips in popularity and output but, for my money, trance’s premier imprint has been back with a vengeance in recent years. And while Paavo, Jono and Tony are the brains and driving force behind it all, they owe plenty to the likes of Super8 & Tab. Aside from Above & Beyond’s own material, they have clearly helped shape Anjuna’s sound over the last 4 or 5 years, both individually and collectively. It’s a sound that for me perfectly encapsulates what it is that draws most people to trance. While DJ Orkidea has for so many years been representing Finish trance music from the edges of the underground, Super8 & Tab, via Anjunabeats, have picked up the baton and brought it into those slightly more mainstream, fashionable echelons.

I think most fans of trance fans were keen to hear this album when it was announced. Tracks like Elektra, Won’t Sleep Tonight and Helsinki Scorchin', as well as Super8’s solo remixes from the earlier days, have made the duo hugely respected within the scene. Maybe not the scene’s hottest DJing property, but production-wise as good as absolutely anybody.

Having listened to it, I’m sure some people will accuse Miika and Janne of softening up. And it does commit what is seen by some as a cardinal trance sin – male vocals. But I think the pair have, in recognising that an artist album poses an entirely different set of situational challenges, shown an impressive level of artistic intelligence. The level of production is as high as ever, the pads and synths are as lush as ever, the overall sound as warm and emotional as ever. But the pace better suits listening outside the sphere of a club and the vocals somehow feel new and unique. The title track, Empire, is typical of the album in terms of how it moves Super8 & Tab into new territory, serving up a completely original vocal backed by a deliciously groovy bassline.

Empire topped the bill in what was Anjunabeats’ finest year since those genre redefining beginnings in the first part of the decade.

Favourite Track: Empire

1 . Carbon Based LifeformsInterloper
[May / Ultimae Records]

I think when you’re working within a genre as subtle and as delicate as ambient, getting your music to evolve and grow with each record can be a really difficult challenge. For the listener, spotting that musical change can be a really personal thing, even more personal than it is in other genres of music. With the release of the long awaited Interloper, the CBL trilogy became complete and all of a sudden the progression of the duo’s music suddenly became obvious.

While so much of the music I listen to is a celebration of that great life giver, The Sun, this is a celebration of another of the universe’s great life givers – water. In fact, Carbon Based Lifeforms’ albums are less a celebration a more an exploration; an aquatic voyage. Moreover, it’s such a clear and interconnected contextual journey that, now that this third album has been released, I’m finding it hard to treat and judge these albums separately. They are one album in three parts, a sonic package, a water themed concept album.

Hydroponic Garden is the careful surveying of the untouched lagoon, the insects softly breaking the surface of the water and the post-rain moisture dripping slowly from nearby plant life. World of Sleepers is a smooth descent beneath the warm water, the floating and weightlessness under the deep blue. What is Interloper? Interloper is the awe-inspiring mist on the pond as you re-emerge triumphantly from the water, cleansed and reborn. The three albums are a musical baptism.

The way each follows on from the last is perfectly deliberate and shows a patience, a craft and an intelligence not often seen anywhere else in music. The fact that this is the latest part in such a groundbreaking, purist musical experience, a part as infinitely indispensible to the overall whole as the previous instalments, alone makes this the best album of the year.

Favourite Track: Frog



50. Golden Coast – Ivory (Scot Project Remix)
[May / High Contrast Nu Breed]
49. Stoneface & Terminal – Don’t Give A F**k (Vocal Mix)
[January / euphonic]
48. Sander Van Doorn – Daddyrock
[August / Doorn Records]
47. Super8 & Tab feat. Jan Burton – Mercy (7 Skies Remix)
[July / Anjunabeats]
46. Matthew Dunne – Something Similar, Very Different
[October / Slinky]
45. Shogun – Re-Ignition
[May / Monster Digital]
44. Estiva & Temple One - November Lovely (Temple One Remix)
[February / Enhanced Recordings]
43. Max Graham feat. Neev Kennedy - Sun In The Winter (Alex M.O.R.P.H. Remix)
[March / Coldharbour Recordings]
42. Fabio Stein – Speedster (Original Uprise Mix)
[May / 40 Degrees Records]
41. Gareth Emery feat. Lucy Saunders - Sanctuary (Sean Tyas Remix)
[August / Garuda]
40. Luke Terry - Escape From Antarctica
[February / Unearthed Red]
39. Michael Dow – Grot Bag
[April / Digital Remedy]
38. Mike Foyle presents Statica – Deadly Nightshade (Phynn Remix)
[January / Coldharbour Recordings]
37. Pulser – Broken Universe
[April / Garuda]
36. Oxygen Shadow - Letano (Smart Apes Remix)
[January / Redux Recordings]
35. Armin van Buuren – Orbion
[September / Armada Music]
34. Aruna with Mark Eteson - Let Go
[October / Anjunabeats]
33. Abraham Leoga - Insolution (Craving Remix)
[May / Unearthed Records]
32. MEM – Forza
[October / Reset Records]
31. Jochen Miller – Humanoid
[April / High Contrast Recordings]
30. Heatbeat – Mr. Walrus (XGenix Remix)
[March / Soundpiercing]
29. Robert Burian – Saloon
[July / Forza Music]
28. Tim Preijers presents Sense Of Shiver – Offshore (Arctic Moon Remix)
[March / Enhanced Recordings]
27. Mike Nichol – Tweak
[March / Discover White Label]
26. Diplo vs. Tiësto - C'mon
[September / Mad Decent]
25. Porter Robinson – Say My Name
[August / Massive 808]
24. Mark Sherry feat. Sharone – I Will Find You
[November / Reset Records]
23. BT – Suddenly (Ferry Corsten Remix)
[March / Black Hole Recordings]
22. Velvetine – Safe (Wherever You Are)
[March / Anjunabeats]
21. Cliff Coenraad - Massive (Sunrise 2010 Anthem)
[July / High Contrast Recordings]
20. Sergio Maldonado – Back To Square One
[August / Dub Tech Recordings (Istmo Music)]
19. Sander Van Doorn – Renegade (Sean Truby Remix)
[March / Doorn Records]
18. Jochen Miller – Classified
[September / High Contrast Recordings]
17. Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery present Oceanlab - On A Good Day (Metropolis)
[October / Anjunabeats]
16. Super8 & Tab – Black Is The New Yellow
[May / Anjunabeats
15. Rafaël Frost – Flashback
[March / Flashover Recordings]
14. Trance Arts - Twisted Tales
[March / Unearthed Red]
13. Space Rockerz – Weather The Storm
[January / In Trance We Trust]
12. Soundlift – On A Mission
[January / Blue Soho Recordings]
11. Ferry Tayle & Static Blue - Trapeze (Daniel Kandi's Emotional Remix)
[March / Enhanced Recordings]
10. Adam Nickey – Altara
[September / Anjunabeats]
9. Suncatcher – Wildflowers
[March / Enhanced Recordings]
8. John Miller – Viper (Trace Traxx Remix)
[May / Good Stuff Recordings]
7. Robbie Buri – Attack
[January / Reset Records]
6. Ben Gold – Sapphire (Trance Mix)
[May / Garuda]

The Top 5
5. Dimension – Queensland (Arctic Moon Remix)
[May / Emphase Recordings]
4. Super8 & Tab feat. Jan Burton – Empire
[September / Anjunabeats]
3. Marcel Woods – Tomorrow
[July / High Contrast Recordings]
2. Armin van Buuren – Full Focus (Ummet Ozcan Remix)
[July / Armada Music]

Phil’s Tune Of 2010
1. tyDi feat. Tania Zygar – Vanilla (Ben Gold Remix)
[July / AVA Recordings]

My end of year mix, containing all of the Top 30 tracks in the above chart, is available on my SoundCloud page – and will be available for stream and download until the end of January. Comments, here or via SoundCloud, welcome as always.

Producer Of The Year 2010:

3. Ali Wilson
2. Ben Gold
1. Super8 & Tab

Superstar DJ Award 2010:

3. Eddie Halliwell
2. Above & Beyond
1. James Zabiela

Label Of The Year 2010:

3. High Contrast Recordings
2. Enhanced Recordings
1. Anjunabeats

Podcast/Radio Show Of The Year 2010:

3. Global DJ Broadcast with Markus Schulz
2. Identity with Sander Van Doorn
1. Trance Around The World with Above & Beyond

"One To Watch" for 2011: Arty


And there you have it. That was my musical 2010. I'd like to wish you all the best for 2011. Stay safe, stay passionate about music.


  • Addicted2Melody

    Well, Armin will continue dividing people. I'm by no means in his 'fanatical supporters' camp – as the above text shows - and he's definitely DJ first and producer second in my eyes. Mirage still had some very bright moments for me. I was listening to Tuvan only the other day and it almost shocked me how powerful that tune is even after all these months. And for my money, the fact that he brought some of that style to Mirage did work. Absolutely love Orbion for example. Other parts were very boring though, I agree. Super8 & Tab - again, as I point out in the journal, the slight change in emphasis for Empire was always going to disappoint many. Personally, I love it and couldn't stop playing tracks like Black Is The New Yellow, Empire and My Enemy. As for the 'extremely boring tracks' in my Top 50 - well, as you've not really specified any in particular, I can't really take issue, but all I will say is that compiling that Top 50 was really difficult. I had so many favourites last year, but those 50 are the ones that I played most while DJing or remember most vividly from nights out and podcasts. Personal preference as always.

    Jan 18 2011, 22h37
  • Addicted2Melody

    Mirage, as an album, defintely tries to be two different things at once. The overall theme is a bit mixed up. But I don't agree that the strings were Armin being experimental for experimental's sake. For me, they are the direct follow on from Tuvan and have been done deliberately to give his DJ sets those haunting orchestral openings that he's favoured of late. It's strange - a lot of people hated the 'commercial' direction of Imagine but to me, whatever people's misgivings about it's style, it was a much more holistic, consistent album. As for Vanilla.. Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on that. I actually thought the Ben Gold remix was pretty underrated. The lyrics are provocacative and that electo bassline is pure dancefloor gold. When Gareth Emery played it at Creamfields I almost completely lost it. I think you're right that trance isn't particularly innovative these days. Certain producers are trying to modify their sounds and encorporate other genres, but using bigger electro basslines (as opposed to deep, rolling ones) or pushing towards house is not really anything new anymore. It's just the natural progress of the genre and it's become the norm. The real innovation is coming from more underground, 'obscure' avenues - like Kino Oko's album, for example. But I don't think that necessarily means that it wasn't a strong year for trance music. Yes, at times it did feel like I was wading through an enormous number of boring, mediocre tunes to get to the really good stuff - at least more so than 2009. But the good stuff has kept me coming back for more as always. Anyway, thanks for your comments, mate. Glad you thought this journal was a balanced assessment.

    Jan 19 2011, 12h46
  • Shponglation

    Love the Kino Oko album, thanks for the awesome journal bro:)

    Jan 25 2011, 12h34
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