By: Andrew E. Brown
Gareth Emery doesn’t rush into things. The UK trance producer has been making music for eight years, but Northern Lights is his first artist album. And his timing is perfect. A lesser producer, one more concerned with money than with art, might have seized an earlier opportunity to release an album. But Emery sat back as opportunity after opportunity passed him by. He could have dropped an album in 2002 when his single “Mistral” got love from the world’s biggest trance DJs: Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Ferry Corsten. Or in 2006 when he cracked DJ Mag’s top 100 DJs poll. And though he promised to one day deliver an album, all he released was single after single.
Emery took his time, and now he makes good on his promise. The result is a genuine and mature album. Emery writes on his website that the production of Northern Lights was natural – he made the album because he was ready to make it, not because it was a smart business move. And his sincerity shows. Northern Lights’ tracks work because they are real – they aren’t sellouts and they aren’t studded with big-shot vocalists. In fact, Emery says he made a point of using singers who hadn’t been featured on electronic tracks before. The result is three of Northern Lights’ best songs – “Sanctuary” and “Fight the Sunrise”, with Lucy Saunders, and “Too Dark Tonight”, featuring his sister. Yes, I too was skeptical of the latter choice, which at first seemed to be a foolhardy nepotistic indulgence. But it turns out she can actually sing. Touché, Emerys.
Unlike many trance albums, Northern Lights doesn’t get stale after a few tracks; it is heterogeneous and interesting throughout. The hour-long album starts as progressive house, then transitions into trance, climaxing with the urgent and blisteringly fast album closer “All is Now” (an excellent collaboration with Activa). Another way Emery keeps Northern Lights fresh is by injecting distinctly non-trance elements into it. The confident “Arrival” features a flute part from jazz band Brute Force; “Too Dark Tonight” is bookended by long, mournful piano solos, a welcome change from the flavorless trance standard of introductory/concluding kick drum thud. Of course, the songs aren’t just interesting to listen to…they are legitimately enjoyable too.
I think that lately some trance producers have been feeling uninspired. They should consider Emery’s creative process: make music on your own terms, not according to a business plan. Don’t rush things along. If you have nothing new to say, don’t say anything at all. So here’s to Gareth Emery. I eagerly await his next album, even if it’s another eight years in the making.
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