A review of My Sound by DJ Shog. The album was released in the UK in January 2009. There are various imported versions available but the content reviewed here applies to the standard UK release.
Probably not a name familiar to many, DJ Shog is a German club DJ and producer who is rather better known in his native country. A prolific remixer of commercial dance and trance, his sound is quite unremarkable in the field of vocal and commercial trance, but he retains quite a following, on the continent at least.
A listener needs to be quite forgiving to be tolerant of this material. 'My Sound' doesn't easily make the transition from the Euro clubs into the UK. The biggest hurdle is the language barrier. The vocal arrangement of these tracks leaves a little to be desired, it must be said. European songwriters are very often able to put together what appears to be a perfectly coherent song but closer scrutiny reveals that the lyrics make barely a shred of sense. Take 'Running Water' (the third track on the album) as an example. This is a good song, which enjoyed chart success across Europe. The melody is catchy and there's a dramatic, attention-seeking synthesised string that grabs your attention. The vocalist has a powerful, dramatic voice and the sound is pretty mad for it. The trouble only starts when you listen to the words.
"It's like hot running water.
As it runs through your fingers,
Leaving a burning pain.
Love's like hot running water.
Once it runs through your fingers,
Painful in every way."
I think that's the first time I've ever heard love compared to burns to your hand caused by pouring a kettle on them. It's certainly an interesting analogy. But some of the songs suffer far more. 'Another World' and 'Live 4 Music', for example, are equally euphoric anthems, resplendent in all the touches that make a good trance song, but they suffer from this awful snarling female vocalist who keeps banging on about scorpions and the like. 'The scorpions are coming - and they will GET you!' she snarls. Like, whatever?
Accordingly, it must be said that the album succeeds far more when poorly paid female vocalists don't keep getting in on the act. The good news is that this applies to the larger part of the album's fifteen tracks, which makes 'My Sound' very welcome indeed.
What is it that makes a good trance anthem? Well, the answer will be different for all but you could do a lot worse than take some of the highlights of My Sound as corking examples.
'This is My Sound' is simple. A repetitive synth sample thrown amidst a swirling beat that occasionally drops into a melancholy little piano solo, interrupted only by a subtle voice telling us that 'this is my sound'. Remember that pulsating instrumental sound from BBE's Seven Days and One Week? There's a whiff of that here too and it's fine. There are actually two versions here - the first version is remixed by CJ Stone (another German DJ) and has a slightly more commercial sound to it, but the original version is included for the purists and is probably the better of the two.
Curiously, the next highlight breaks the album's dodgy vocal rule and introduces a vocalist named Ida with a haunting, siren-like verse that resonates across a pulsing beat. Resplendent with several of those dreamy breakdowns in which everyone catches their breath/swigs a drink/decides they love everyone (delete as applicable) this track builds really nicely into one final catastrophic whirlwind of synths and strings. We likey. 'Tribute' has a slightly more industrial beat to it, but that trance-like synth soon crops up. It's a little like Robert Miles' original material, with a much harder edge to it and the genius is in the simplicity. Another tune that builds in tension and drama, it's all about the breakdown and this one is big.
'Don't Stop' immediately sounds like a rip-off of ATB (he had a song with the same name and this one even starts the same way). Fortunately, it soon diversifies and then sounds like someone else. Back in the early 90s, a legendary group named Westbam had an enormous trance/techno anthem called Wizards of the Sonic, which featured a fairly distinctive vocal that just featured somebody going 'Oh Oh' at various pitches. The same idea is used here and, curiously, it works really well. The instrumental element here is tougher (a sort of staggered synthesiser) and the beat is harder. Overall, it feels like a more modern rework of the Westbam idea and it works really well.
Across Europe, the album has spawned a number of reasonably successful singles, some of which were released here and would be probably only be familiar to hardened clubbers. The choices are unusual and not always represent of the overall sound of the album. 'Another World', for example, is remarkable only for one of those aforementioned horrible scorpion vocals - a sure fire turn off for English audiences. 'Don't Push Me Down' was/is far better, with a tough, ballsy vocal from Anita Kelsey, but couldn't match some of the other tracks for instant appeal. 'Running Water' is probably the most radio-friendly thing here but, again, suffers from its slightly incoherent vocal. Indeed, it's really not hard to see why this material hasn't thrived in the UK (even the name DJ Shog is a bit daft, let's face it).
Generally, however, this is a huge shame, because there are some enormous tunes on this album that thrust the album way above the mediocrity that a lot of European trance has to offer. If you can look beyond the daft name and the stupid lyrics there is some very, very good material here