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October 20, 2003

Van Dyk looks deeper on new disc

Paul van Dyk, while not well known in America, is one of the best-known DJs in Europe. Reflections is his most recent album. He is known for solid, eminently danceable albums, and this one doesn't disappoint. The album must have been put together in a relatively short period of time due to van Dyk having released two other albums this year, yet all the songs have the same level of polish that one expects from Paul van Dyk. The tracks on this album vary in style and tempo, more so than in past efforts. For hardcore fans, this change may be a disappointment, but for most, myself included, it's a nice addition to his catalogue.

Known for progressive trance music, van Dyk takes a somewhat different approach on this album. With stronger, more pronounced bass lines, many of the songs have a harder, more house-influenced sound. The fifth track, "Nothing But You," opens with a soft, ethereal introduction, yet it soon segues into a much faster, louder song. "Knowledge" takes this development even further and goes into the realm of break beats. Of course, van Dyk does not abandon the sound he has developed over the years, as seen in such tracks as "Connected," which could easily have come off of his 2000 release, Out There and Back.

However, this album showcases a much stronger focus on lyricism, which is perhaps van Dyk's biggest development on Reflections. The liner notes include the lyrics for 6 of the disc's 13 tracks, which is unusual for an electronic music album.

"Time of Our Lives" is an upbeat song, reminiscent of Ecclesiastes and the Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Helping to tie together four other tracks is the vocal talent of Jan Johnston, who is the vocalist in "Like a Friend," "Homage," "Spellbound," and "Kaleidoscope." "Homage" and "Spellbound" are good-natured, positive songs—love songs really.

More interesting, especially considering van Dyk's traditionally upbeat songs, are "Like a Friend" and "Kaleidoscope." Both are quite pessimistic songs that beg for change. "Kaleidoscope" begins with the lines, "In the kaleidoscope of chaos/The headlines read, ‘We're going to extremes'/And people are left with no dreams…no dreams." "Like a Friend" admonishes: "Stop turning away/It won't go away/If we don't do anything, it will always stay/But there's a way...there's a way." Such reflections add a certain gravity to van Dyk's music that hadn't really been there before. The synthesizers take a backseat to the lyrics; this new spin contributes further to the added depth of the music.

What I've been struck with most about this album is its variety. It has many different-sounding songs, some great for the dance floor, some great for quiet listening. While some people may be entirely put off by electronic music, I think this is a good album for anyone at least moderately interested in the genre to discover what makes this music compelling. The diversity of sounds, interesting lyrics, and infectious beats all help to make this album a very strong one.

To be honest, however, I've been conflicted while reviewing this album. After the first listen, it appears to be just more of the same from Paul van Dyk: same sound, same style, same quality. Upon repeated listening, I have come to the opinion that this is a much more nuanced record than his previous offerings, covering a greater range of electronic music and attempting to expand his repertoire. Rather than providing a revolution, van Dyk presents an evolving sound, one that I hope he will continue to develop.