Distant Earth

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After flirting with electro-rock on 2007's Heather Nova-featuring Trilogy and drum‘n'bass on 2009's Future Memories, German producer André Tannenberger reverts to more familiar terrain on his ninth studio album, Distant Earth. Like its two predecessors, it's a mammoth two-disc affair with 27 tracks designed to soundtrack both the floor-filling night out and the chilled-out after-party, a rather brave move considering the previous limitations of his progressive trance sound. Those expecting the pulsing guitar-twanging euphoria of his late-'90s heyday will be slightly disappointed however, due to its slightly downtempo and chilled-out vibes that appear to have been influenced by the resurgence of dream-trance kick-started by Chicane and Deadmau5. Opening track "Twisted Love" sets the tone, opening with some slow-paced heart monitor bleeps and warm layers of synths before merging with a blend of dirty electro grooves and ethereal vocals; "Killing Me Inside" is a brooding slice of low-key electronica, complete with mournful strings and melancholic piano chords; and even the long-awaited collaboration with superstar DJ Armin Van Buuren ("Vice Versa") opts for hip-hop breakbeats and Vangelis-style synths over the pounding clubby anthem that was anticipated. It's only on "Apollo Road," the seven-minute squelchy techno instrumental with Dutch outfit Dash Berlin, the spoken word dirty electro of "This Is Your Life," and the Paul van Dyk-esque "Move On" that the pulse rate really starts to increase. The first disc's repetitive production means that it's up to the guest vocalists to carve out some kind of identity. Cristina Soto, Melissa Loretta, and Kate Louise Smith all possess the generic breathless siren tones that have become a standard in the trance genre, but Texan singer/songwriter Sean Ryan adds some much-needed character with his John Mayer-style rasp on "All I Need Is You," while Reamonn's Rea Garvey provides a sense of brooding menace on "Running a Wrong Way." Apart from the '80s-tinged cocktail bar R&B of "Be Like You" and the atmospheric trip-hop of "Moving Backwards," the second disc is largely forgettable, with the several aimless meandering new age instrumentals difficult to differentiate from each other, while the easy listening piano piece "Trinity" drifts dangerously close to Richard Clayderman territory. If Tannenberger could have exercised a little quality control, a slimmed-down Distant Earth would have been worthy of competing with its obvious influences, but instead it's a bloated and inconsistent listen that doesn't offer enough invention to justify its lengthy running time.

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