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Voices from the Dustbowl

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Album Review

Fragile State put plenty of Brits in a twitter with 2002's Facts and the Dreams, which found Neil Cowley and Ben Mynott creating precise, nearly intellectual downtempo that lacked the druggy hangover so prevalent in the genre. They've returned after a foray into mix-album land with Voices from the Dust Bowl, an album that makes all the right moves melody-wise (even packaging-wise), but lacks the tangibles to truly make an impression. "King for a Day" arcs static-cling keyboard and guitar lines over an insistent, mildly funky bassline, while "600 Bliss" sighs under the sway of romantic strings and the vintage keyboard interjections every chill album since Moon Safari has felt compelled to feature. The sound and timing of the song's loping drumbeat is utterly predictable, but also appropriate to its reconfigured '60s love theme swoon. However, like bad blind dates and too much of Dust Bowl, the track goes on for way too long. The restraint that guided Fragile State's past work seems at odds here with drifting inattention. This isn't true for the entire album. "Paper Smile" builds its melody with well-honed subtlety and endearing little keyboard squiggles, while "New Bassa" is a soulful wonderland of plaintive piano, processed percussion shuffle, and rushes of synthesizer background. It's like autumn in space. "Stolen Generation," too, benefits from Fragile State's artful melodic touch. However, as you amble onto the late album entry "Overcurrent" — which lassos Dust Bowl's listlessness with a burst of vocal sample and upbeat snare — its eagerness sounds out of step, since by that point the album seems to have embraced its own lethargy. By its very design, downtempo music aims for comfort. But while Voices from the Dust Bowl is certainly pleasant, it's rarely distinguishable.


Genre: Electronic

Years Active:

Fragile State is the moniker of the British duo Neil Cowley and Ben Mynott, both highly experienced in the music industry. Cowley, (keyboards) toured extensively with Zero 7 and several other groups. He has gathered an array of production credits, including Freil (whose single was on San Francisco's acclaimed Naked Music Recordings), and East West Connection. Mynott, a music journalist, is known for his monthly jazz/house column in B&S magazine. Bar De Lune Recordings put out Mynott's sexy, soulful...
Full bio
Voices from the Dustbowl, Fragile State
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