The Garden Import
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|10. If I Can't Have You|
|12. Waiting To Die|
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
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Top Customer Reviews
"Simple Things" was almost flawless in all aspects and one of the best albums that I've ever heard in any genre. "When It Falls" was also a fantastic album, and at the very least a very noble attempt at meeting the impossibly high standard that they had set with "Simple Things".
But this one just leaves me scratching my head. As if rather than trying to make another phenomenal album like their last two, it was more important to "experiment" and do a bunch of things differently, just for the sake of it. Consequently I think they really went off on a musical tangent, and not one that I particularily enjoyed.
The production, I think, was my least favourite aspect. They did so many different things with it than their last two that I think they really screwed up on. For example, many of the drums that they used were far too PLAIN and the (I think new?) male vocalist who appeared for some of the songs seemed akward and even whimpy. In general I would say that the production sounds even kind of amature in some moments. It almost sounds like they tried to mix old 60's hippie music with some strange form of electronica/trip hop, as far as production goes as well as a lot of the song writing.
The actual song writing in itself I thought was pretty creative (thought not quite as much as their last two releases) for the most part, but found overshadowed and even ruined by the strange production techniques and "new sound" that they gave the album, and always found myself trying to "look past" how the songs sounded and focus on the actual music.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
While I would have loved another chillout album, the music I got was good AFTER the second spin and the shock wore off. Let me repeat -- AFTER the second spin. (The first spin had me thinking I would be selling it.)
Some people here have mentioned Steely Dan in Zero 7's new vibe. I can hear that; but for me, this album sounds a lot like it could have come from 1969 interpreted in an 80's fashion, like Z7 had been listening to some early Cardigans music among other material (not a bad thing at all -- just so different for Z7). To explain further: the melodies, thought-provoking lyrics, and arrangements are more 60's hippie-trippy than trip-hop, like psychedelic Jimmy Webb pop meets mellow Pink Floyd. Darker than sunshine pop, but far from gothic. All that is contained within the trappings of many 80's elements that are all the rage right now.
And to my ears, it works. AFTER the second spin.
Again, even though I personally would have preferred another chillout album, there is enough Z7 spice and intelligence to make this set a keeper. Not only that, the group is smart enough to recognize that the chillout craze won't last forever. This latest musical direction shows at least one alternate route that they could successfully take without being dangerously typecast in nu-lounge.
It's refreshing to see a talent like Zero 7 be able to switch directions and still pull off quality material. That doesn't happen often. While I do hope that they include some more of what made them famous next time around -- some "Simple Things" stuff -- it will be interesting to see what new ideas they have up their sleeve.
Recommended for: those willing to try something new that might be a slightly acquired taste. Acquiring that taste will be well worth it.
Throw out all the five star and one star reviews, and check out what people are saying. We're all here because we love this group's music, so what's different on this album?As other reviewers have pointed out, there are a lot of half-realized works. Overall, the vocals are fine, but I do find myself missing the variety of three contrasting lead vocalists: Sophie Barker or Tina Dico or Mozez. I also miss the gorgeous strings they used to drop with great effect. To give an example of flashes of brilliance, let's take the beginning of the album.
"Futures" kicks off the album, introduces Jose Gonzalez, and sounds great. Then about 2 1/2 minutes in, it just goofs around with some annoying sound editing (one effect sounds like your CD is skipping) and then brings in some obvious and klunky percussion. This give you the sense they are building up one of their epic climaxes, but it just dies there. 2 1/2 minutes, then mediocrity. Bummer.
The next tune, "Throw It All Away" sounds great and surprisingly bouncy, but then a couple of things happen. The energy really kind of drops on the chorus. It's unsatisfying, and you can hear Sia's soulful licks coming before they happen because, well, there's so little to do. And then a little annoying guitar line comes in; it sounds amateurish. Coming from Zero 7, I'm surprised.
Then comes an instrumental tune, "Seeing Things." Great production, but kind of soulless. My wife walked in while it was playing and said that it sounded like "video game music." Ouch--that's my Zero 7 your talking about! But she had a point.
"Pageant of the Bizarre" and "Fine Social Scene" sound nice, but depend on you really connecting with their repetitive builds, and thanks to some buzzy guitar work, it works for me on Social Scene, but the beginning of Bizarre is a better song. Again, pieces of brilliance.
So what did I think was perfect?
I'm glad another review mentioned "Left Behind." It's a gorgeous one minute song. But one minute?! I would have loved to hear them transform this jewel into one of their six-minute epics. Oh well.
"You're My Flame" take their new techie-chill-bouncy approach and nails it; Sia sounds great without digging into her soul bag.
"Today" takes a samba beat and throws the patented Zero & chill on top; Jose Gonzalez is perfect. Great track.
Overall, pieces of most everything on the album sound wonderful, but there are a lot of bland let-downs for this Zero 7 fan. But I still love 'em and I aint going anywhere.
This album showcases some almost forgotten influences from the 70's making for what I believe is one of the freshest sounding releases in this genre. There's a Steely Dan (fantastic group) feel throughout with the work of Alan Parsons (Dark Side of the Moon, I Robot) propping up the overall sound and production. I've also heard Fleetwood Mac named in other reviews. There's even homage to Nick Drake with `Left Behind'. What Zero 7 have done is take some of the best elements of these and others and made a new kind of downtempo album. The key focus this time is on the song writing with a more organic sound.
I love Air, Blue States, Lemon Jelly and Royksopp and up till now Zero 7 have fit perfectly within this family. Other then its organic nature, where `The Garden' differs is that it feels like one piece (a complete album) as apposed to a bunch of songs. This is what was so magical about the 70's. Go back and look at how many artists were making their albums one cohesive piece of work in those days. It was as if the pressure of being judged on hit singles simply wasn't there. Could you have imagined where such groundbreaking artists as Pink Floyd, The Stooges, Yes, King Crimson, Steely Dan and nameless others would have ended up in today's pop wonderland market. Record companies simply wouldn't have taken the punt and we would have been the losers.
I must admit I miss some of the ethereal elements of the other two albums, but you can't go past the song writing and overall wholeness that is `The Garden'. I've listened to it about 20 times and each time I've wanted to hear it in its entirety. Each song is where it should be and the album ends with the listener wanting Zero 7's next instalment. Even the artwork matches the feel of the record.
Whether you're already a Zero 7 fan or just discovering them, give `The Garden' a go, it doesn't disappoint. It's not a simple listen at first, but I promise you it will keep offering up new surprises each time you listen, until one day without realising it you'll start looping sections in your brain, mabye even start humming aimlessly. In today's McDonald's (Fast and Forgettable) marketplace, `The Garden' is a breath of fresh Air (no pun intended) you will cherish long after the experience.
Well done boys. Now get to Australia for a tour and I'll be completely satisfied.
"The Garden" is an interesting turn for the group. They've traded in Simple Things for a complex cornucopia of backyard flora. Their normally cascading melodies have each been caught When It Falls and planted into sunny soil, well-watered, loamy, rich, healthy. The result is certainly beautiful, even if it doesn't sway with the same sweet bitterness that made the first two records such deep, soulful successes.
You still have the duo's uncanny ability to mold a tune, and Shia's unmistakable pipes are still present, but now there's an almost Playskool type of playfulness to songs with lyrics and titles that are less than sunny. "Waiting To Die" sounds like an adult's nursery rhyme. "You're My Flame" is a brassy, brash digi-pop ditty. "Throw It All Away," with its muted trumpets and synthesized swoops, is about as groovy as Zero 7 gets, with a smirk thrown in to boot. And "The Pageant of the Bizarre"? It sounds exactly like the name implies; like a circus calliope that's been retro-fitted with a few extra pipes.
The group's usual simmer isn't gone. "Crosses," "If I Can't Have You," "This Fine Social Scene," and "Futures" are all reminiscent of the early years of Zero 7. But in keeping with this new, deep-rooted direction, the tunes all bristle with a new, restless energy. The trademark instrumentals suffer some under the buzz ("Your Place" gets a bit big-bandish), but the vocalized songs flourish under this brand new solarity.
The album definitely differs from previous albums but it still very much the Zero 7 sound that I know and love. It sounds to me like Zero 7 has taken their usual style and added soooo much more in terms of "fillings". Imagine looking at a childs coloring book...it's filled with enjoyable pictures, inviting environments, clean lines, and images that provoke some imagination. Although very enjoyable, when you stand back and look at the entire book there's still room for improvement. Now picture the same book as it's filled with brilliant colors...bringing forward and explosion of life and excitement to an already enjoyable experience.
This is how I feel about Zero 7. I've always liked them enough to buy the CD's but I never thought of them as one of my favorites until now. Their additional explosion of creativity in The Garden filled a void that I never knew was there. They've painted a picture in the form of music that I can't get out of my head and I am truely in love with the music.