Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25: Zero 7, "In Time"

Artist: Zero 7
Song: "In Time"
Album: When It Falls
Year: 2004

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Though it does not necessarily make them "bad," it is quite common amongst the non-blues based musical genres for artists to seemingly forget that the world that follows their genre title is, in fact, "music."  Or perhaps it is better stated that many artists in these more experimental styles of music walk a fine line on what can be considered musical.  However, regardless of how "far out" a certain style of music is, there are always a few performers of that genre that help to "pull back" the sound and keep it rooted in musical creation and show the connection with the larger idea of music.  It is often within the world of electronic music that these questions of "what is" music are most often raised, as performers within these genres often lose sight of their purpose.  Furthermore, there are few genres that have more fleeting "stars" than in electronic music, as there are countless one-off players and even more sub-standard wannabe's.  Yet over the past decade, few acts have churned out more electronic albums of as high a quality as one finds within the catalog of the English duo known as Zero 7.  After blowing the world away with their stunning debut, the group upped the ante with their more creative and sonically adventurous follow-up, 2004's When It Falls.  Featuring a number of guest vocalists and some of the most beautiful compositions in the history of the genre, few songs better define the group's ability to fuse together new and old sounds than their absolutely beautiful, folk-sounding single, "In Time."

From the first notes of the song, it is clear that "In Time" is nothing like the stereotypical electronic song, as it brings a slow acoustic guitar over a soft, simple beat.  Throughout "In Time," the musical focus rarely shifts from the guitar playing, and it is so perfectly toned that it evokes the spirit of the country-folk singers of the 1970's.  The fact that this sound is undeniably present within such a modern genre serves as a testament to the unparalleled musical talents of Zero 7's Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker,  as it is clear that their musical creativity knows no boundaries.  However, these two have not created a re-hashing of an old style on "In Time," they have in fact found the ideal way to merge old and new, and this feat has yet to be topped since it was first released.  Yet along with this classic sound, throughout "In Time," they delicately place a number of other musical elements that highlight the best there is within the down-tempo or ambient sub-genre of the electronic style.  From gentle keyboard chords to to perfectly placed sound effects, Zero 7 finds a fantastic way to make the song very full, and yet it comes off as a very simple and almost minimalist sound.  It is their ability to create juxtapositions such as this that set Zero 7 far apart from their peers, and they offer a very unique blend of musical bliss within "In Time."

Along with giving the world some of the most gorgeous musical creations in recent history, Zero 7 has also gained a reputation for featuring some of the most gifted vocalists of their era, and many who have sung on Zero 7 songs have gone onto very successful solo careers.  Throughout When It Falls, the group has a number of different vocalists performing, and yet it is the work of Sophie Barker that shines brightest on the record.  Both of the songs she sings on ("In Time" and "Passing By") stand as the highlights of the album, and she would later work with artists ranging from Bliss to Groove Armada.  On "In Time," Barker's voice is nothing short of perfect, as there is a soulful sweetness in her sound, and she adds to the idea of the song being simple, yet overflowing with emotion.  Barker's voice soars, showing no limitations, and there is an honestly and purity within her singing that pulls the listener in and provides a stunning musical experience that persists even after repeated listenings.  Yet it is also the words she sings that help "In Time" to have such a "classic" feel, as they perfectly capture the feeling of a person who simply needs a bit of time to themselves.  While there are few songs that better accompany a mood such as this, there are few more accurate lyrics than when she sings, " to sit this silent moment out..."  Perfectly capturing the essence of introspection, as well as providing a fantastic musical companion for such times, vocalist Sophie Barker gives a stunning and unrivaled vocal performance, turning "In Time" into one of the finest songs in the history of electronic music.

Though a vast majority of electronic artists make no secret of their style and keep all of their songs firmly rooted within this sound, it is often those performers that blur the lines of genres that stand as the finest representatives of the electronic style.  For more than a decade, the English team known as Zero 7 have constantly pushed the down-tempo/ambient genre forward, and their early work remains some of the finest recorded music in the genres' history.  Creating truly stunning musical arrangements that completely engross every listener, it is Zero 7's ability to appeal to a wide range of listeners that has enabled them to crossover into more mainstream notoriety.  This has also been accomplished by the fact that the duo that "are" Zero 7 have shown an uncanny ability to spot and highlight some of the finest "underground" vocalists in the world, and on "In Time," Sophie Barker is instantly added to that elite group.  It is her voice that proves to be the special element that makes this song stand out on what is a superb record, and in both her pitch range, as well as emotion, few artists of her generation have shown similar ability.  Combining her soft, yet strong voice with a guitar progression that could have easily have been written three decades earlier, Zero 7 shows their true musical talents by not "ruining" their creation by "over-doing" the electronic element.  Finding a perfect balance between old and new sounds, few songs of any genre can compare to the amazing mood and beauty one finds on Zero 7's 2004 song, "In Time."

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