Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 25: Zero 7, "When It Falls"

Artist: Zero 7
Album: When It Falls
Year: 2002
Label: Elektra

Music labeled as "electronic" tends to be marginalized and all grouped together as "techno." The fact of the matter is, when you move away from the bass heavy, rave inspired, DJ-whocares garbage, you will find some of the most acoustically pleasing albums ever created. Artists and groups who fall into the "ambient/downbeat" classification tend to be some of the most creative and diverse musicians in any genre. Following in the footsteps of the group Air, UK duo Zero 7 constructed a remarkably gorgeous audio experience with their 2002 release, When it Falls.

Perhaps the greatest pitfall of ambient/downbeat electronica artists is attempting to make records beyond a debut that does not sound like the same idea repeated. As the genre is somewhat restricting, the ability to create completely new soundscapes and moods is what separates the good from the great. The main members of Zero 7, Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, seem to have an endless stream of brilliant musical ideas and are able to keep things fresh throughout When it Falls. While the album stays "chilled out" from start to finish, each track has its own identity and the duo shows how much latitude there truly is within the genre.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect that sets Zero 7 aside from the rest in their genre is the fact that they use a decent amount of live instrumentation on their recordings. Harmonicas, keyboards, and guitars mix in with the electronically created sounds to form a grand musical landscape. The are often so wonderfully relaxing and smooth that they could easily find their way to "adult contemporary" radio stations as easily as they could be found on This ability to craft genre-crossing music is rarely seen within the electronic world, but the capability of the music found on When It Falls to have this mixed appeal are absolutely undeniable.

On both of their first two records, Zero 7 benefits greatly from the presence of vocalist Sia Furler. Her vocal range seems to be endless and the mellow, bluesy moods she helps to shape are often breathtaking. Although the instrumental tracks are absolutely enjoyable, when Hardaker and Binns let Sia work the vocal booth, it propels the songs to another level. Two of the most amazing songs on the entire record are "Passing By" and "In Time." The paired vocals of Furler and Tina Dico are simply stunning. The truth is, both musically and lyrically, these songs could have been a 1970's folk-vocal hits as easily as they are turn of the millennium electronic masterpieces.

Most music fans write off any electronically-based albums as "techno." Truthfully, the sounds and sub-genres are as varied as those of what people label as "rock" music. From the wildest "drum and bass" to the eccentric sounds of "trip hop" to the lulling moods of "drone," there are truly a world of styles within the electronic world. Somewhere between ambient/downtempo and mellow pop music, you will find the group Zero 7. With gorgeously textured music and jaw droppingly incredible vocals, their sophomore effort, When It Falls is one of the many lesser-known records that should be a part of every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Somersault," "Passing By," and "In Time."

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