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A Different Kind of Soul Music: Zero 7

A Different Kind of Soul Music

For me, there is one sure-fire recipe to turn a stressful day into a relaxing evening: low lights, a delicious dinner, and a Zero7 disc in the CD player. It doesn’t particularly matter which one, either; any of the albums made by the duo of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are fine by me, and although there are subtle differences between them, the overall ability to smooth out my mood and calm me is the same throughout.

Binns and Hardaker are probably best known for their light trip-hop beats combined with intensely mellow and swirling instrumentation. It is a formula they have carried across three studio albums, as well as many remixes and compilations. The vocals, which they don’t always bother with, are consistently calming, yet still engaging. The melodies are intricate enough to be interesting, yet not so much as to be distracting.

The real magic in this music is the ability to reach within the soul of the listener and turn the contrast up a bit. Far from being boring, there is a huge dynamic range within the songs, both emotionally and musically. Changes are often so subtle that they don’t hit your consciousness until after they’ve already happened, leaving you smiling in wonder at how you possibly arrived at point B from point A. Each song is distinct and different from the others, and yet when placed side by side they somehow manage to make a whole that is homogeneous without being repetitive. Rich vocal harmonies carry you up into the proverbial clouds; winding instrumental melodies gently guide you back down to earth, renewed and rejuvenated.

One of the things that helps keep Zero7′s sound fresh is the use of rotating vocalists. There are enough of them in the lineup to keep things interesting, but not so many that there’s no continuity of style. Favorite singers pop up again and again; Australian vocalist Sia Furler lends her distinctive voice to more than her share of tracks across the Zero7 albums, including such hits as “Destiny” (during which she shares vocal responsibility with the equally talented Sophie Barker) and the heart-wrenching love song, “Distractions”.

Critics have referred to Zero7′s songs as “muzak for the modern age,” but to write off this duo’s entire body of work in one fell swoop ironically misses the point behind the smooth sounds and innocuous beats. In this age where many music acts rely on slick, attention-grabbing production, or a public image that screams “look at me,” it is nice to know that some acts are still capable of passing over the glitz, and concentrating solely on producing quality songs that appeal to the non-rocker set. Just because the appeal is subtle doesn’t mean it is bland or even non-existent.

One of my favorite things to do after a stressful day is put some Zero7 on in the background and sit on the balcony with a glass of wine. It’s the perfect way to unwind in the evening, and is a calming influence in an otherwise hectic world. Sure, it might not be some people’s idea of feel-good music, but for someone who has made an art out of relaxing, it suits me just fine.

Zero7′s full-length studio releases are entitled Simple Things, When It Falls, and The Garden; all three discs can be purchased from any major retailer, either on a physical CD or via digital download.

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