year of release: 2012
detailed info: discogs.com
Hard work pays off. If anyone has shown that in the past few years, it has to be Brock Van Wey. He produces several filled-to-the-brim ambient albums every year, almost too many to really keep track of, but those of them which I’ve heard are all excellent. The only reason I didn’t put his I Remember (translations of ‘Mørketid’) – in which he used Netherworld’s Mørketid as base material – on last year’s best of 2011 retrospective, is that I didn’t really start digging into Bvdub since this year. Consider this a rectification.
Regardless, for 2012, my focus fell on Serenity, the first 500 copies of which came with a bonus album Don’t Say You Know, which really deserves a review onto itself, since it’s so much more than tacked-on collection of tracks. It’s a proper album with its own sound and theme, that just happened to be packaged along with this one. I’ll ignore it for now, and focus on Serenity instead.
The usual Bvdub elements make up the album, with a focus on thick, warm synth pads, waves, and melodies, the occasional fat bass, and samples of female vocals. Throughout Serenity, a laid-back 4⁄4 pace is kept, mostly with a simple beat, sometimes just in the melodies and loops. As usual, he has no difficulties creating an entrancing flow that will keep you occupied for the almost eighty minutes that fill this CD, and that effect doesn’t really diminish over repeated listens.
Despite the consistent flow of the album as a whole, I’d say “Beauty” is a truly outstanding track, with something really compelling about its beat and bass combo, as well as the interplay of its two dominant vocal lines. The same goes for the almost beatless and vocal-heavy interlude “Love”, and the following “Strength”. The latter has a superb start with an oboe-like melody building up into a steady track, but dares to shift gears halfway with some crashing bliss-out waves and strings introducing a lovely vocal wind-down.
Many of Bvdub’s previous are melancholy affairs, but Serenity attempts to bring a little brightness and warmth. I think Van Wey’s approach here has to do with nostalgia, which is a bit of a controversial concept in recent years. We’ve seen so much of it, arguably too much, and a significant segment of today’s entertainment industry relies on it, for better or worse. Sometimes, though, it manages to hit the right notes. Perhaps it’s a matter of there being a personal click or resonance. In the case of this album, that might be it.
In the late nineties, Van Wey was a DJ in San Francisco, while I was a little teenage boy taping tracks off the radio in my bedroom. What we probably shared at the time was trance music and its carefree melodies and ethereal vocals, conjuring an atmosphere of love, peace, tranquility, serenity. Perhaps that was already nostalgic in itself, a yearning for yet another (imagined) era. Now, some fifteen years later, those elements can have the same poignancy. Filtered through Van Wey’s ambient production and composition skills – obviously more mature than that involved in a lot of the music from back then – the trance and chillout stylistics don’t seem at all out of place in 2012.
Perhaps it’s the honesty as well that makes Van Wey’s nostalgia so much more palatable than most. He doesn’t hide it behind an arched eyebrow or a tongue-in-cheek; there’s no mask of irony to hide behind in case people ridicule your love for something quaint from the past. Instead, with Serenity, he seems to say: “Remember this? Wasn’t that beautiful?”. Yes, it was. And like this, it is again.
Reviewed by O.S.
1. Unity (10:45)
2. Beauty (14:26)
3. Energy (12:50)
4. Love (9:28)
5. Strength (17:33)
6. Serenity (11:50)