Like '90s country artists making their bid for pop play, post-millennial European trance DJs are increasingly pushing their artist albums (as opposed to the innumerable mixes they typically author) into commercial territory. Like Paul Oakenfold's A Lively Mind
and Tiësto's Elements of Life
, van Buuren's latest, Imagine
, soft-pedals the oceanic washes and diva blasts in favor of more traditional verse-chorus-bridge songwriting. That van Buuren does this while playing into trance's peak-and-valley flow and without losing the emotional thread is testament to the youngster's skills. Born Christmas day in 1976, Van Buuren's five years younger than Oakenfold, Tiësto or Paul van Dyk, having gotten his start while still in his teens. For years, he suffered in the shadow of Dutch countryman Tiësto, who collaborated with van Buuren on his first big hit, the 1999 single "Eternity." After trailing Tiësto and PVD since 2003, he unseated them last year, earning DJMag.com
's coveted title of number one DJ. Imagine
is less cerebral than its predecessor (2005's Shivers
), with plenty of energy and pace, highlighted by the single "Going Away," which blends a pulsing trance vibe with gloomy British New Wave. While touring, recording, and running a label, he's also found time to get a law degree, so don't even try to hang this DJ.