‘The Maze’ starts dark, thrillsome and with a Terminator-like resolve. Each sequence more gripping than the last, you want to push back that light-side pressure release for as long as possible. And here’s Estiva’s twist… it never comes. With zero recourse to squelch, fray, distortion or other alienating, moody tropes either, it refuses to loosen its grip but for a second. Clean and precisely machined, its focus is on energy-absolute, and in that, it’s dazzling.
Paul van Dyk & Jordan Suckley
“A collaboration with Jordan is becoming ever more essential to the make up of my albums. After ‘City Of Sound’ for ‘Politics 3’, and ‘From Then On’s ‘The Code’, this is our third successive one together. Did we manage to outdo the energy of those tracks? I’ll let you decide."
Danny Cadeau & Chris Copper
A new signing to High Contrast and a very promising one, no doubt. Front end of ‘Free’, Danny Cadeau and Chris Copper present the track’s elevating credentials in a form that’s as ebullient as it is unabashed. It then takes some time to breathe, equalise and supply the contrast, feeding exceptional harmonic elements and FX into its system. Frontrunner for best element, though, is its movingly sincere vocal, which, one way or another, will nab you.
Above & Beyond and Spencer Brown feat. RBBTS
'Long Way From Home '
Fresh from their Grammy nom for ‘Northern Soul’, Above & Beyond release their first post-‘Common Ground’ vocal cut. We mention ‘Northern Soul’, as tone-wise, ‘Long Way From Home’ has much the same overarching feel of addictive lament. RBBTS (German twosome Anne Kalstrup and Hendrik Burkhard) bring a similarly reflective melancholy to its song, which A&B riff off superbly, with reaching synth lines and radiantly warm pad bursts.
DT8 Project Feat. Carla Werner
A State Of Trance
By no means the production endgame, it has to be said that ‘Pieces’ exudes class start to finish. As well it might too. There are few safer pairs of hands than Darren Tate’s, and he’s clearly producing with the finished vocal in hand. AWOL from electronic music for half a decade, Carla Werner (of ‘Southern Sun’ fame, lest it need saying) hasn’t lost an ounce of her ability to affect through song. Add some imaginative joined-up lyric writing, and you have an impressive release.
Pure Trance Recordings
More distinctly than any year in the last five, 2018 gave us ‘go-to’ names dependably capable of delivering excellence with each release. Lostly was, and is, as good an example as any. ‘Reflections’ is the more conventionally uplifting of the two here. On closer inspection, though, it has far more nuance than is first evident. If you go for only one, the brilliantly structured ‘Distant Shores’, with its intricacy of production and classically M.I.K.E. Push-like mainline, has to be the pick.
'The Funk Controller'
At this stage, who doesn’t like a bit of HP with their trance? The Aussie duo seem buoyed to greater experimentation with each release, which keeps the attention reciprocally locked. ‘The Funk Controller’ owes its title to (what else other than) its bass, which grooves incessantly around a nippy tempo. Plenty of gusto evident in its other quarters too, though, with its proud-to-be-loud percussion and burrowing acid lines sparring with off-kilter psy elements.
'The Luminescence EP'
From the re-activated Norwegian twosome, there's much to please the ear here. ‘Spirit’ has bags of charm to its chime, which is rolled into warm bass and then built up further through strong pad and chord atmospherics. This, in turn, is amped by highly effective key changes, which maintain its lift at a perfect trajectory. Broadly occupying the same stylistic space, with a wistfully summery twanging guitar, ‘Luminescence’ has a more classic Balearic feel. Nice, but ‘Spirit’s your straight sets winner here.
Smith & Brown
‘Tilt’ has the trance label that took the most risks last year off to a promising start in 2019. Galloping bass, pace and percussive metallic strike set its tone, while shadowy vocal echoes hover in the milieu. As it approaches the drop, sweeping synths go some way to offsetting its ominousness. This could still go either way though, and with a final hard twist of the reverb knob, it chooses the darker, flintier, techier path.