Timo Maas

If there's one thing the world most definitely does not need right now, it's another watery mix CD from some overhyped trance DJ--you know, the ones with the tastefully modernist cover art (invariably featuring a handsome European staring meaningfully into space) and the interminable synth build-ups that eventually crest in predictable spasms of four-on-the-floor euphoria. As one of the world's most in-demand jocks (he's right up there with Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk in his ability to pack a club with well-dressed thrill seekers), not-so-handsome German Timo Maas has coughed up two such discs so far, 2000's Music for the Maases and last year's Connected. Both albums sold oodles and greased the wheels for the new Loud, the producer/remixer/DJ's first album of original material.

Surprisingly, it's got more going for it than the whoosh of expensive machinery. Chalk that up to Maas' handle on trance's crucial characteristic: not its abandonment of song structure--jungle, house, glitch and pretty much every other species of electronica have done just fine without verses or choruses--but rather its rigid and formal dependence on a closed set of sonic elements. You can manipulate a crescendo in a finite number of ways, so Maas sidesteps that compulsory anonymity by spicing his compositions with healthy dollops of camp (on disc opener "Help Me," which R&B nutcase Kelis ices with sci-fi-film paranoia, and the sexed-up "That's How I've Been Dancin'") and bonhomie (the obviously blunted "Hash Driven") and a sense of restraint that is the opposite of the genre's typical bluster (the nearly Air-like "Hard Life" and closer "Bad Days"). Of course, it doesn't hurt that a couple of actual songs do show up--English astral-soul crooner Finley Quaye gives shape to "Caravan," connecting its forward momentum to trance's ancient antecedent, raga--but Maas needn't get ahead of himself: Just attaching a personality to the proceedings is a step in the right direction.