This was my first time participating in the almighty MattA75's I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours Write-Off. And it wasn't without its first-time glitches on my behalf. Paul and I finally settled on albums, but I ended up with horrible computer problems and lost the album when my hard drive crashed. So I'll be the first to admit I certainly wasn't the best write-off partner this year. And Paul, I do apologize. Then I got hit with two major projects for school that had to be attended to ahead of this review (...if only this review could be used as entrance to two AP classes next year...). So as a result, I'm probably the last one to actually post my review. Okay, enough with the horror stories. On to my review...
UK producers Sam Hardaker and Harvey Binns are behind Zero 7, a rotating band that really turns out to be a group effort. With their mastery behind the boards, Zero 7 has released four albums, including 2001's acclaimed Simple Things.
Zero 7 Is:
Sam Hardaker/Harvey Binns (Producers)
Mozez/Sia Furler/Sophie Barker (Vocals)
Dedi Madden/Allan Simpson (Guitar)
Pete Trotman (Bass)
Jeremy Stacey/Ollie Savill/Miggi Baradas/Jenny Arrel(Drums/Percussion)
Sally Herbert/The Brilliant Strings/(Violin/Strings)
Graeme Stewart (Trumpet)
Mozez's vocals on the lead track, "I Have Seen," are lamentable yet carefree. With an expansive instrumental focus, Zero 7 makes a quick strike first impression. I love how the guitar, bass, drums, violin, strings, and vocals all blend together smoothly, making it a delightful experience. "Polaris" is next. A fluffily produced number, it doesn't grab me the same way as the last track, but part of that is because it's an instrumental. With solid mixing, this one is a bit out there; sort of an acid jazz meets Pink Floyd track.
Sia Furler and Sophie Barker's vocals flow into the next song, "Destiny," with all the grace and poise of a ballerina. The ambient noise backing the drum loops doesn't detract, as one would think. The aural energy is very good, and I find it enjoyable. Track four is another instrumental, titled "Give It Away," but it incorporates a nice blend of the guitar, drums, strings, and trumpet. If you want a pleasant song to chill to, look no further than Zero 7. It does get a bit long toward the middle-to-end, however, since it clocks in at over five minutes.
"Simple Things," the title track, is next. Featuring Mozez again behind the mike, it's a little bit R&B, a little bit jazz, and a whole lot of calm music. I can't say I'm a fan of "Red Dust," which follows. It's kind of overproduced and it sounds like they've already played it on the album, and we're only six tracks in.
Sia Furler handles vocal duties on "Distractions." Her sultry voice just screams "Diva" and she doesn't disappoint. Alicia Keys, move over. Both the guitar and keyboard work is excellent, accenting her voice superbly. "In The Waiting Line" isn't as vocally distinct, with Sophie Barker singing this time. She isn't bad, it just doesn't really click with me that well.
"Out Of Town" happens to be an instrumental with a great trumpet part. Really, I'm not into the whole horns thing except for ska usually, and I was damn impressed. Kudos to Mr. Simon Elms on the trumpet. Mozez returns, along with violinist Sally Herbert, for "This World." Complete with fuzzy fades when he hits the high notes, this one does sound a little overdone. Instrumentally, however, it's solid.
The Philani Mothers handle vocals, joined by Ms. Herbert and Jenny Arrel on drums on "Likufanele." I don't know why, but I really don't like this one. It just doesn't have any special air to it; instead it seems more annoying than anything. The vocals are barely intelligible, even though the instrument work is again, above average. "End Theme" is an instrumental with vibrant strings. It's also the shortest track on Simple Things by nearly one minute (3:39 in length).
"Salt Water Sound" is a bonus instrumental that flows well, but is fairly unremarkable. A nice guitar/keyboard mix keeps you interested, but barely so. Ms. Barker sings on "Spinning," and very well. In what I believe was her best vocal performance on Simple Things, she sings softly yet passionately, hitting her notes perfectly. There's something oddly satisfying about her voice here; this is a nice close to the album.
I'm giving Zero 7's Simple Things a 4-star rating, but that is rounded up. I've never been a fan of jazz or electronica, and while they haven't won me over completely, I'm certainly more open-minded to this genre in the future. The instruments on the album are some of the best I've heard in quite a while with any band in any genre. They also managed to find three great vocalists, and use them well (although a bit sparingly) in Mozez, Sia Furler, and Sophie Barker. I will recommend Simple Things if you're intrigued by the genre at all. If you're not, I don't think this album would make such a lasting impression so as to change your mind completely.
Rating: 3.6 stars, rounded to 4.
Special thanks to Paul D. for putting up with me and writing a great review. And of course thanks to Matt for allowing me to be in the write-off.