CD Review: Ultra Music Festival Compilation 2014

So you scored tickets to Ultra this year, but can’t bear to wait until March 28-30, when all your favorite DJs unleash their blissful barrage of beats on downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.

Well, here’s a quick fix to tide you over. Or help you live vicariously, if you can’t attend.

The “Ultra Music Festival Compilation 2014,” a 14-track mix available now on – surprise! – the Ultra Music label, gathers 14 dance-floor anthems by several of its main-stage artists, including Calvin Harris, Kaskade, Nicky Romero and Above & Beyond. You’ll also find works by up-and-coming artists such as Dutch duo Blasterjaxx and Swedish DJ/producer Style of Eye, plus an underground element with jams by Chicago trap duo Flosstradamus and Swedish tech-house DJ John Dahlback.
Things kick off with a slight Top 40 feel as Calvin Harris featuring Ayah Marar’s “Thinking About You” offers soulful, uplifting vocals and hammering piano chords, recalling the late ‘80s works by Soul II Soul, but with a crisper sound and modern production tweaks. It segues seamlessly into the comforting, breezy sound of a descending Kaskade keyboard riff on his collaboration with Project 46, “Last Chance.” The track starts off slowly, with ethereal female vocals pleading, “This is my one last chance to breathe,” then predictably swirls into banging, fist-pumping trance. No real innovation here, but it’s pleasant enough.

The groove downshifts into “Dare You” by Hardwell feat. Matthew Koma, which starts off with a compelling melody in the same vein as Paul van Dyk’s anthem “Time of Our Lives,” but is nearly spoiled by clumsy, choppy beats and synths during the inevitable “big payoff.” It’s a common trap that often diminishes otherwise solid pop songs.

The vibe turns a bit darker and filthier with the growling bass and gut-wrenching vocals of Nicky Romero vs Krewella’s “Legacy”; the manic keyboard squelch of Will Sparks’ “Catch”; the 808 State-style staccato synths of “Boneless, by Steve Aoki, Chris Lake and Tujamo; the riot-inciting aggression of Flosstradamus feat. Casino’s “Mosh Pit”; and the whistle-along keyboard riff of John Dahlback’s “Sirens.”

From here on out, the CD is nonstop energy, showcasing catchy tunes with splashy beats and obvious highs and lows, highlighted by the exhilarating sonic whirlwind of Above & Beyond’s “Hello,” the gritty indie-rock bassline and soaring vocals of Chris Lake feat. Jareth’s “Helium,” and the hipster, Amy Winehouse-like singing overtop racing trance of the final track, Style of Eye’s “Kids.”

Overall, it’s an accurate reflection of much of the main-stage Ultra concert experience. Of course, jamming 14 tracks into 64 minutes leaves little room for subtle buildups and deep, gimmick-free grooves. Then again, no one goes to Ultra seeking subtlety.

Available at for $10 on CD and $9.49 as an MP3 download.