Following on from their triumphant sold-out shows at London’s Porchester Hall and Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre last year, trance veterans Above & Beyond now continue their unlikely love-in with all things unplugged for their fourth studio album, Acoustic.
Renowned for its thumping four-to-the-floor beats and soaring hands-in-the-air synths, the British trio’s genre of choice seems an unusual fit to receive such a stripped-back treatment. But the group have always placed just as much emphasis on melody as production, ensuring that their transition from the superclubs to the concert halls runs surprisingly smooth.
Accompanied by a 13-piece orchestra and regular vocalists Zoe Johnston, Annie Drury and Richard Bedford, Above & Beyond appear almost unrecognisable here, whether they’re transforming the euphoric floorfiller of “Sun & Moon” into the kind of epic indie balladry that could be mistaken for Snow Patrol, turning the thudding progressive trance of “Can’t Sleep” into a smoky jazz-tinged slice of chillout, or reworking “Good For Me” into a lush string-soaked epic worthy of gracing a big-screen Tolkien adaptation.
But Acoustic arguably works best when Above & Beyond look back to the 90s. Heightening the emotional resonance of the original, “Love Is Not Enough” is a gorgeously haunting affair which recalls the otherworldly folktronica of early Bjork. The impressively cinematic “Alone Tonight” sounds like a John Barry Bond theme as remixed by the Bristol trip-hop scene’s key players, while “Satellite” and “Stealing Time” are mashed up to produce the type of Sunday morning anthem that defined Air’s Moon Safari.
The straightforward ballads don’t quite hit the same high marks. “Making Plans” – the only track here which didn’t originally appear on either one of the band’s first three studio albums – veers dangerously close to talent show winner’s single territory, while “A Thing Called Love” could easily be entered in the Eurovision Song Contest without anyone batting an eyelid.
But overall, Acoustic is an inspired attempt to take trance music upmarket, a move which only further cements Above & Beyond’s pioneering status.