I'd kind of given up on Paul van Dyk after 2003's "Reflections", an album with a few really strong cuts and a whole lot of mediocrity. Coming off his best work, 2000's "Out There And Back", it was a major letdown and things only got worse with his last album, 2007's "In Between". There is no denying the man is an absolute legend in the electronic dance music world with plenty of legendary tracks to his name as well. But the days of classics like "Words", "For An Angel" and "Another Way" seemed long gone.
Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much from his first album in five years, "Evolution". And when the first single "Eternity" featured the truly awful Adam Young, from the truly putrid Owl City, on vocals I was reluctant to even bother with the rest of the album. But I have a need to hear any new album certain artists put out, and as a lover of electronic music, Paul van Dyk is such an artist. And lo and behold, I'm glad I did because "Evolution" is his best album since "Out There And Back".
The title is somewhat deceiving as there is not much of an evolution in PvD's sound. I have seen some reviews complaining that van Dyk comes across as stuck in the past on this album, not growing his sound much to match the productions of current popular electronic acts like Skrillex and Deadmau5. Why the hell would you want Paul van Dyk, the master of progressive trance, to sound like Skrillex? There are hundreds of lousy Skrillex sound-alikes already flooding the market. PvD is getting back to what he does best here, mixing instrumental dance anthems with some fantastically produced electronic pop songs with guest vocalists. The latter have often been the downfall of his past few albums, but with the exception of the Owl City misstep, and that is almost unforgivable, he is on the mark here.
The album opens with the excellent one-two punch of "Symmetries" and, to these ears, a new Paul van Dyk classic "The Ocean". "Symmetries" has an instantly memorable piano line and smoothed out groove, while "The Ocean", a collaboration with Arty, utilizes two brief vocal samples from Dash Berlin's "The Night Time" in its beautifully blissed out mix of progressive house and trance. It's the best instrumental track on here by far, worthy of adding to the list of great PvD songs.
There are plenty of other strong instrumental tracks here too, something I am glad to see return as previous albums suffered from an emphasis on vocal tracks in a seeming desire to cross over into the pop market. "Rock This" is pure electro while "Dae Yor" will satisfy those looking for one of those fast, pumping van Dyk dance tracks. "Verano" has another of those melodic keyboard lines PvD has down to a science, it's no surprise the collaboration with Austin Leeds has been selected as another single off the album.
Where "Evolution" sets itself apart from the last two Paul van Dyk albums is in the strength of the vocal tracks. "I Don't Deserve You", featuring Contemporary Christian singer Plumb, is an absolutely gorgeous declaration of unrequited love and she gives a tour de force vocal performance. Johnny McDaid, as Fieldwork, who has worked with van Dyk in the past on "Time of Our Lives" and "Home" returns on "Everywhere", which opens with diving basslines before breaking down for his heartfelt, baritone vocal of a lost love. Sue McLaren provides dreamy vocals to the insistent, buzzing "We Come Together". "Lost In Berlin" is yet another highlight, starting as a stomping dance tune before breaking down into Michelle Leonard's vocal balladry, then returning to the hand-claps and persistent beats to close out. "If You Want My Love" featuring Caligola has all the elements to be the genuine pop hit PvD has been seeking, it's concise and catchy as hell.
Extract "Eternity" from the tracklist and you've got a solid album from start to finish. I'm perfectly fine with one of the greats of the electronic music genre doing what he does best. As far as critics of "Evolution", where exactly was he supposed to take his music at this stage of his career? These songs, be they instrumental or vocal, are his strongest collection in 14 years.
"Evolution" was released April 3, 2012 on Vandit Records.