The sophomore slump hits Zero 7 in their second album, "When It Falls." Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns create a fairly pleasant mesh of downtempo jazz and trip-hop ambience, but their major failure is monotony -- there are few highs or lows in this pleasant if unmemorable album.
The mellow montony of the well-named "Warm Sound" sets off the tone of the album, echoed in the vague "Over Our Heads," spacey title track, and mellowly uninviting "In Time." Unfortunately, these are the most likely to send listeners to sleep -- musically, they possess plenty of beauty and sweetness, and have a distinct polish. But they don't have anything that makes you sit up and take notice.
But the less ambient songs display a little more oomph. There are also forays into ambient folkiness in the low-key "Home", the acoustic and the harmonica-electronica of "Look Up." Some pure trip-hop even seeps in with the jazzy "Passing By," with its mellow singing and faint electronica swips and sweeps.
The primary flaw of "When It Falls" is that it neither rises nor falls -- it's more of a straight line with some gentle bumps and dips. It's more downbeat than their debut album, a little more pensive and laid-back. But one particular highlight is the vocals: Sia Furler and Sophie Barker's sensuous voices, as well as the deeper, soulful voice of Mozez.
Zero 7 does well in melding trip-hop and mellow ambience with jazz and folk. If you can wrap your mind around the idea of harmonica and electronica in the same song, it should be right for you. Guitar riffs aren't very impressive. But the string section is the most accomplished and polished, with violins darting in and out of the music against a faint percussion backdrop.
While often relegated to arty makeout music, Zero 7 is pleasant enough, even when not getting cuddly. It's just that in their sophomore album they get a little too mellow for their own good.