Above & Beyond

First of all I want to make it clear that I do not own any glow sticks.

Second, while I will admit that Freegal is a haphazard source of music, the site's collection of songs by the electronic dance music group Above & Beyond is simply amazing (and free for download by patrons of Pima County Public Library). Freegal offers just about everything the UK band has ever recorded and released and so, being a big fan of Above & Beyond, I'm also a big fan of Freegal.

Third, a wondrous thing about Above & Beyond is that their music has always been offered in a sumptuous feast of alternate versions for all us EDM fanatics out there. This is a particularly good thing since Above & Beyond's music can sound pretty cheesy before getting the extra kick a remix provides. Even better, their music seems to have always brought out the best in the DJs and producers who've remixed it, making for a very rich journey in trance/house music.

Finally, Freegal offers the band's most recent album (We Are All We Need), but I'm not quite ready to judge these newer songs alongside the fantastic material I've enjoyed from them over the past 10+ years. So here I'm gonna stick with older songs from Above & Beyond and their side project, OceanLab.

Simply put, there's at least five downloadable reasons to join me on the dancefloor (click on each title to be directed to the appropriate download page):

"No One On Earth"

Featuring the gorgeous voice of Zoë Johnston, this is unquestionably the single best electronic dance track of the past 20 years or more. The opening lines of this song have always made me think it's a  love song to a Satyr, or perhaps something more sinister:

"Down through the dark trees
You came to save me
You're so ugly and you're so beautiful
You're like no one on Earth could be..."

The Josh Gabriel & Dave Dresden remix (track #2 on the digital single, clocking in at 9:19) of this already amazing song is a tour de force of contemporary electronic dance music, with otherworldly minor-key synth lines floating above a steady beat. Johnston's vocal progresses from a slightly disturbing paean to a literally crazed vamp out toward the end, as she joyfully proclaims "la, la, la, I'm going home" with her supernatural captor while the instrumental backing becomes an ever more insistent rush.

"Miracle" 

Performed as Above & Beyond presents OceanLab, with vocals by Justine Suissa, "Miracle" is quite simply uncompromising environmentalism set to a beat. Martin Roth's lengthy yet propulsive dance mix (track #4 on the digital single, 8:58 in length) exercises sufficient restraint to keep the vocals at center stage, as befits a protest tune:

"It's too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It's too easy to bow your head and pray
There are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today

Are you hoping for a miracle?
As the ice caps melt away?
No use hoping for a miracle
There's a price we'll have to pay "

The video for "Miracle," with beautiful (if somewhat tragic) time-lapse footage of nature scenes, is well worth a viewing (and easily found on YouTube).

"Good For Me"

Another track featuring Zoë Johnston, in its original form "Good For Me" is a gentle bit of chilled out ambient electronica which serves as the perfect vehicle to showcase Johnston's voice. Somewhat more juiced up is Redanka's vocal mix (the digital single's fifth track, with a timing of 6:54), which retains the abstract, drifting feel of the original while anchoring it to a piano and synth-driven trance groove.

"Sea Lo Que Sea Sera"

The original version of this song always seems to me in danger of sinking beneath its schmaltzy veneer of high-brow culture. However, a pair of Hungarian DJs (Myon & Shane 54) rework this song into a seriously jumpin' bit of techno/trance which is still sung in entertainingly formal Castillian Spanish with an impeccable, I'm tempted to say Imperial, style by Miguel Bosé. (Myon & Shane 54's Summer of Love remix is the final track on the single, and runs 6:55).

"Ashes"

Another track performed as OceanLab and sung by Ms. Suissa, "Ashes" is a trance/dance number about attending one's own funeral and watching your ashes scattered across the sea. Oliver Smith kicks the groove into overdrive, bringing to the song that contradiction that dance music best achieves, where an upbeat instrumental backing stands in contrast to a decidedly sombre lyric.  Smith's 7:22 remix is included on the OceanLab Remixed collection, and is the only version of "Ashes" featured on that set.

Now, if I could just find my disco ball...