Sunday, February 10, 2008

Music Review - e-Smoove

The first time I heard the electro-soul outfit, Zero 7 was on the original Six Feet Under soundtrack. The sultry song, "Distractions" got into my psyche and has remained there - coming out in whispers and hums that soothe and seduce. It's that kind of song; they're that kind of band. At the heart of Zero 7 are Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns. This techno-duo combines vintage funk with cutting edge instrumentation to create sexy, soulful grooves.

Both men began their careers in the 1990s as sound engineers in London - remixing music for big-time Brits such as Pet Shop Boys and Robert Plant. Their former college-mate, Nigel Godrich who was the producer for the band, Radiohead gave them a shot at re-vamping their sound. The results were stellar: A completely different remix of "Climbing Up the Walls" that appeared as a B-side of Radiohead's single "Karma Police".

Word was out and Zero went to hero in no time at all. One good remix deserved another, beginning with Terry Callier's "Love Theme from Spartacus" followed by ones for Sneaker Pimps, Lambchop and Lenny Kravitz. This was what one might consider the turning point in their career - going from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

The duo's 2001 debut album, Simple Things was both a blast from the past and a look into the future. Techie-synth sounds echoed over lush, sexy voices to recreate the romance of sixties French pop with post-millennium styling. Guest singers Sia Furler, Mozez and Sophie Barker along with dreamy instrumentals made this album the essential 'chill pill'. Plus, the song "Distractions" put Zero 7 on the map when it became part of the HBO series Six Feet Under soundtrack.

Their second album, When It Falls was released in 2004. Among the returning artists were Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Mozez - their breathy harmonies created cinematic soundscapes reminiscent of big screen music from eras past. With so many guest performers one can only wonder what a live performance would entail. Apparently, anywhere from 11 to 20 people can appear on the stage. A daunting task, indeed.

Now on their third album, The Garden, Zero 7 seems to be moving into a progressively warmer area. Once pegged as electronica or acid-jazz, Zero 7 broadens its horizons with The Garden. Partly responsible for 'sultrifying' their sound is their newest vocalist — Scandinavian singer-songwriter and guitarist, Jose Gonzalez. With his own critically adorned album, Veneer in the UK top ten, he adds folk-inspired melodies to The Garden while harmonizing beautifully with Zero's veteran, Sia Furler.

Jose will be joining the U.S. tour in September 2006 with yet another new guest soloist... none other than Henry Binns, himself. Who knew he could sing... and quite well, at that. But then again, there's a lot we don't know about Zero 7. Besides producing and programming every inch of their music, Binns and Hardaker cover a broad range instrumentally. All the keys, piano and synth parts are 100% theirs and some of the drums and percussion, as well. The creation is clearly more important than kudos, as they have never credited themselves on any of their albums.

It appears they have won their creative license... and definitely the attention of the media, as well. Another song from Simple Things ("In the Waiting Line") emerged on the highly successful "Garden State" soundtrack. Were they paying homage to the movie by naming their latest album, The Garden? Or is the name simply indicative of the term, "plant your seeds and watch them grow'? Zero 7 has done just that... and we the listeners, are lucky enough to hear them flourish.

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