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When It Falls

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Album Review

Downbeat acts proceed down the middle of the road at their own peril. While such a path may guarantee them a lucrative career in Starbucks outlets and on crossover compilations, the onset of advanced musicianship and mature songwriting often comes at the expense of artistic ability (see the steady downward fall of Groove Armada for an example). Zero 7, one of the few acts following in the wake of Air that had the talent to match, debuted with a record (Simple Things) that featured some of the warmest, most mellifluous tracks heard in electronic music since Moon Safari. When It Falls, their second record, finds the duo largely sticking to the same formula, with all the sinewy basslines and languorous vocals that follow along. As before, Zero 7 is more of a band than most downbeat acts, with credits for bass, guitar, and drums plus keyboards, brass, flute, and strings. Much of the record is nearly perfect downbeat, and the productions of Zero 7 main men Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns mesh perfectly with the instrumentation — so well, in fact, that the record threatens to sink into a nether region of pop music that's both flawless and harmless, more adult alternative than electronic pop. There's nothing wrong with that prospect, but when a downbeat act begins to emulate a pop act, the situation practically demands developed songs and tighter hooks. Unfortunately, only a few tracks here meet those criteria. Fortunately, though, they are beautiful indeed. On "Home," new addition Tina Dico summons the downy, pastoral yearning that's become de rigueur for downbeat female vocalists, and the returning Sia Furler shines on a track ("Somersault") that's simultaneously spacy and down-home. Sophie Barker, the star of Simple Things' "Destiny," returns for "In Time," one of the sweetest tracks Zero 7 has ever produced. The rest of the record, however, possesses very few of the unburnished edges needed by albums with character or personality. When It Falls reaches a nadir of sorts on "The Space Between," a pleasant song that unfortunately descends into self-parody over the course of its six minutes — two minutes of which are taken up by an overripe harmonica solo.

Biography

Formed: 1997 in London, England

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The men behind the European downtempo outfit Zero 7 -- producers Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker -- launched their careers in the music industry as tea boys at a London recording studio. Shortly thereafter, however, both were in the thick of action, working alongside a string of well-known British musicians such as the Pet Shop Boys and Robert Plant. They spent the best part of the '90s honing their production skills behind the scenes. Then, after taking on the name of a nightclub in Honduras, the duo...
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When It Falls, Zero 7
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