Above & Beyond

Group Therapy

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One of the few trance acts to sustain their anthemic sound over an entire album, British production outfit Above & Beyond have a lot to live up to following their 2006 debut, Tri-State, which is widely recognized as one of the genre's landmark albums of the last decade. Opening with a similar orchestral instrumental ("Filmic") as its predecessor, and with former Faithless vocalist Zoe Johnston and regular collaborator Richard Bedford back on board, sophomore album Group Therapy doesn't exactly make much effort to shy away from their previous winning formula. There are the twinkling Robert Miles-style dream-trance numbers ("Alchemy," "On My Way to Heaven"), the epic Balearic club bangers that prompted Madonna to use their remix of "What It Feels Like for a Girl" as the official single ("Sun & Moon," "Sweetest Heart"), and nods to the old skool on the acid house beats of "Giving It Out" and the early-'90s ambient electronica of "Sun in Your Eyes." But as lushly produced as these are, the Anjunabeats label founders only begin to justify their pioneering reputation when they attempt to push their floor-filling boundaries, as on the dirty electro basslines, stop/start rhythms, and Calvin Harris-ish stadium riffs of "Thing Called Love"; the lolloping synths and progressive trance vibes of "Black Room Boy," which also features a rare vocal from the trio's Tony McGuinness; and the euphoric tribal chanting of the midway instrumental, "Prelude" -- while their chillout potential is fully realized on the gorgeous "Only a Few Things," an Air-inspired slice of downtempo mood music perfectly suited to Johnston's ethereal Judie Tzuke-esque vocals. Five years after their innovative first offering, Group Therapy feels like Above & Beyond are playing catch-up. But although there's little here to suggest the Queen of Pop might come calling for a second time, it's still an often hypnotic and uplifting listen that proves the trance genre is capable of transcending its super-club roots.

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