That big coat has been hung up in the wardrobe, you’re starting to drink cider instead of your usual pint of Guinness and everywhere you look there are adverts about the World Cup. Summer must be around the corner and what better soundtrack could there be to mark the onset of all those long hot days than a new album from Zero 7.
One-time sound engineers Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns are back with their first full length release since the outstanding When It Falls in 2004 and there are not too many surprises as the same cool brand of soulful electronica is laid out on the table.
Recorded in the Somerset countryside with former college mate Nigel Godrich, who’s also been a busy boy working on Thom Yorke‘s upcoming debut solo album, the duo have recruited the usual array of vocal talent to supplement their breezy soundscapes.
Australian singer, and Zero 7 mainstay, Sia Furler is back for the third time although this time around there is no Sophie Barker or, particularly unfortunately, no Tina Dico, the Dane now enjoying success with her debut solo effort. Dico may not feature but another Scandinavian currently making waves does.
Fresh from the success of his album, Veneer, Jose Gonzalez pops up on no less than four tracks, adding something different to the Zero 7 mix. And it is with his silky vocal that the album starts, as Futures kicks things off in typically lush fashion like the first dawn on a day in mid-July.
Gonzalez’ second song on the album, Left Behind, is a beautiful short acoustic number but feels out of place on here, being much more akin to something you might hear on one of his solo efforts.
Bizarrely this could be said far more of that track than one which does actually feature on the Swede’s debut album. Crosses, a song which exposed Gonzalez to the masses even before the Bravia TV ads after it was featured in US drama The OC, is reworked here to dramatic effect. All synthed and danced up with a very psychedelic ending, Crosses is turned into a totally new song, while the 28-year-old’s other vocal on The Garden is another up-tempo tune – the Latino tinged Today.
New single, Throw It All Away, is the first track on the album where we hear the very distinctive nasal tones of Furler. Featuring another new Zero 7 innovation, the Spanish guitar, it is essentially a very good pop song.
The Pageant of the Bizarre is another with single potential. “Catch a falling star, you’ll go far” sings Sia in a very simple song with a chorus that plants itself inside your head in no time at all. A harmony ending offers an interesting and unexpected twist too.
The highlight song to feature the Aussie’s vocals however has to be You’re My Flame. Loaded with fast-paced melody and plenty of bleeps and whooshes, this is Krautrock running head-on into sassy jazz.
If I Can’t Have You is another tune with dollops of sex appeal, helped no end by Furler’s seductive vocal. With this in mind it is amazing that she is singing about struggling to get noticed, even getting to her knees at one stage!
Aside from the tracks where Furler’s vocal talents are left to shine alone, she also duets on This Fine Social Scene with no less than Henry Binns, stepping out from behind the safety of his laptop. Binns’ vocal debut is not exactly convincing, especially on Your Place, where he takes singing duties unaided. Coming over as subdued, even boring, Binns is saved by some stellar instrumentation with a jazzy theme straight out of Kind of Blue which builds into a brass explosion.
A feature of past Zero 7 albums has been the instrumental tracks, however these have been more and more infrequent over the years and the fact that there is only one on The Garden may mean the next album will consist solely of vocal songs. Seeing Things offers up the proggy side of the band that you never knew about, sounding like something you would hear on an Alan Parsons‘ album or perhaps an old Kraftwerk LP.
Rounding off another superb Zero 7 album is Waiting To Die. Now you’d think this would be a negative number given the title, but it’s actually a song saying get off your arse and enjoy yourself before the man upstairs comes to call. “Yes it’s true death is everyone’s fate but we’ve made it this far so lets celebrate” sings Furler in a song with a very ’60s vibe about it.