Zero 7, aka Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, are back with a gorgeous new album, The Garden. It was produced by Sam and Henry and mixed by Phil Brown, who has worked with such luminaries as the Rolling Stones, Brian Eno and Talk Talk. It features vocal performances by Jose Gonzalez, Sia Furler and Henry Binns. The band's previous albums, Simple Things and When It Falls, were critically acclaimed and rooted them firmly alongside Royksopp & Lemon Jelly as leaders in their field. The Garden sees Zero 7 take a fresher, more upbeat musical direction while still maintaining their trademark sound, and could well turn out to be the soundtrack to the summer.
"Upbeat" seems like an odd description of a recording that includes song titles like "Throw It All Away" and "Waiting to Die." Yet fans of Zero 7 (the English sound-design duo of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker) will indeed discover that the group's third release exhibits a slightly more animated pace--more multitempo than downtempo--than its predecessors, the seductively trippy Simple Things
and the like-minded When It Falls
. Craving a follow-up to the breathy, interstellar soul of "Destiny" from the group's debut disc, or "Passing By" from When It Falls
? You may struggle to find similar magic here. Even so, The Garden
is an intriguing listen, showcasing the sophistication that makes Zero 7 the Steely Dan of chillout--wry, intelligent lyrical observations, inventive musicianship, a detached sense of cool forged by the duo's heady blend of folk, jazz, '70s soul, and electronica. The Kraftwerk-like "Seeing Things"--the disc's lone instrumental--and the pulsing "You're My Flame" are useful tracks to gauge this album's elevated vibrancy. Sia Furler is the group's only returning vocalist, and the absence of Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, the gentle Christine McVie counterpoints to Furler's rough-hewn Stevie Nicks, is noticeable. Mozez and his Seal-like soul is also gone, replaced by more folk/pop-oriented José Gonzãlez. Binns even spends 80 seconds as the quiet lead voice on the slow-building brass outburst "Your Place." Furler's up-and-down vocals on "The Pageant of the Bizarre" will stick in your mind, but her best work comes on two clever lampoons of pampered lifestyles, "This Fine Social Scene" and "Waiting to Die." (Sample lyric: "Now is a good time for tasty glass of wine; let's not worry ourselves about carbon dioxide.") Different, yes, but worthwhile. --Terry Wood