To put it simply, Armin van Buuren‘s sixth studio album, Embrace, is just about the best you could expect from a full-length effort released by an artist at his level of success. Let’s call it what it is: When you achieve the level of status that Armin has, you’re not just an artist anymore. You’re a full fledged enterprise, and there’s an entire team working behind the scenes to make you as profitable a commodity as humanly possible. That point where industry meets artistry on such a massive scale seldom turns out an artist’s most sincere work, but Embrace still manages to be genuine at all the moments that count.
Of course, that’s not to say that much of the album takes every opportunity to challenge the status quo. A discerning trance fan of yesteryear would likely scoff at tracks like his Mr. Probz collaboration, “Another You,” or “Hands To Heaven” featuring Rock Mafia – both of which border on electro-house and plain-old pop music.
Nonetheless, songs like the title track, “Make It Right,” “Gotta Be Love” and “Face of Summer” allow the euphoric, emotional essence of trance to shine through. Even though stylistically each of these tracks may not be trance by its strictest definition, they manage not to be a betrayal either – and they outnumber the more saccharine radio singles by a wide margin.
The tracklist is also a veritable laundry list of collaborators, from vocalists like Cimo Frankel, Angel Taylor and Sarah deCourcey to EDM DJ/producers like Cosmic Gate and DBX. The most noteworthy of these would undoubtedly be van Buuren’s Hardwell collaboration, “Off The Hook” – but unfortunately not because it’s a particularly profound record from a musical standpoint. Rather, it’s the album’s obligatory high-profile collaboration, and the reality of the matter is that two multiple-time DJ Mag #1 DJs names on the track will make people listen to it no matter what it sounds like.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Old Skool,” which appears to be a live recording of van Buuren performing the house/trance fusion of sorts at one of his live sets. It stands out for two reasons: It’s the only track on the album without featured talent and it’s the biggest departure from trance on the effort. More than anything, it appears to be a bonus track included for the sake of diehard fans’ novelty.
The only other shortcoming of Embrace worth mentioning is that the album doesn’t feature nearly as many instrumental samples as interviews with van Buuren might have suggested. The most memorable of them is Eric Vloeimans’ trumpet solo in the beginning of the title track, and those of other songs serve to reinforce the existing arrangement of each more than anything. The light use of instrumentals is welcome, though; with album’s like Avicii’s recent Stories relying too heavily on the incorporation of outside elements, it’s actually a good thing that van Buuren didn’t try to get too experimental on Embrace.
Besides, when it’s all said and done, the album proves that as corporate and shallow as contemporary EDM has arguably become in recent years, artists like Armin van Buuren can still provide examples for aspiring artists to look up to by putting out music with more depth than what usually winds up in main stage DJ sets. Seeing as how trance more or less bridges the gap between dance music’s elder statesmen and the contemporary EDM generation, artists like him find themselves in the unique position of straddling both worlds. At its very core, trance is about love and connections, and Embrace proves that Armin van Buuren is just as capable as ever of being the glue that holds the global trance family of sorts together.
When you've got as many parties involved in your album as an artist of Armin van Buuren's size, it's easy to wind up with a safe, overproduced end product, but thankfully, the producer has managed to turn out a genuine sixth studio album in the form of Embrace.