Downtempo, Chillout and Lounge News and Reviews

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Holiday Offerings

Chilly Yule?

I know what you're saying "Christmas chillout? Has he lost his mind?". My response is "yes" and "no" and "it's good damn it." So if you want to break the beats with boughs of holy or need some holiday chill to help you work through extended close proximity encounters with your favorite disfunctional family, here are a few worthy offerings.

Christmas Remixed

This 2003 release from Six Degrees Records shouldn't really work. The epitome of a gimmick, Christmas Remixed pits DJs with fireside crooners, and the result is traditional holiday classics dressed in beats galore. The thing is, it does work, for the most part, with folks like Dan the Automator having their way with Bing and Dino. I particularly like Stuhr's crack at "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and Beef Wellington's take on Bing Crosby's "Happy Holidays." Six Degrees followed up last year with Christmas Remixed, Volume 2. But I haven't heard it yet.

hOMe for the Holidays

Brought to you by the fine West coast deep house label, Om Records. As with most of their compilations, Om dips into their accomplished, in-house stable of talent for a fine CD of updated Christmas classics. Artists like Kaskade, Rithma, and J Boogie's Dubtronic Science offer up reworked & reshuffled holiday classics resulting in a stunningly beautiful album for those that enjoy holiday music that is slightly different from the tried & true standards. "Charlie Brown Cut Up" by Colossus (1/2 of King Kooba) stands out as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" receives a turntablist's update.

The Reindeer Room Volume II

Finally, another highly recommended choice for the Christmas cocktail crowd is "The Reindeer Room Volume II" on Kriztal Entertainment. This collection mostly features unknown producers (except for Jon Kennedy from Grand Central), but the production is top notch. Obscure carols shine through in their latest incarnations amidst the more recognisable Christmas fare. These versions are very seductive and are perfect for playing towards the tipsy end of any Holiday soiree. The smooth, sexy sounds are sure to help you make a new friend for the evening (hopefully it won't be a member of your immediate family). Also, this CD gets major points solely for the fact that they've included a bonus DVD of a Yule Log fireplace! So if you do end up pulling at said Holiday soiree, you won't even need to build a fire to lay beside!

You can find Christmas Remixed and hOMe for the Holidays on iTunes. All three albums are available thru

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Latest Release from Boards of Canada

Boards of Canada
The Campfire Headphase ***1/2

Boards Of Canada, the mysterious Scottish duo made up of Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, first burst upon the scene in 1998 with their debut Music Has The Right To Children. That album introduced the world to their unique sound made up of airy ambient melodies, hip-hop influenced drums, vocal samples from educational films and other strange places, and the ability to generate hard-to-define emotions.

This sound was so unique and full of potential that it was not messed with very much on their darker 2002 follow-up Geogaddi. Although Geogaddi featured some wonderful songs (including the ultra-creepy "The Devil Is In The Details" which features the voice of a woman who sounds like she's drowning), it contained too many pointless interludes and was pretentious enough to end with a song, "Magic Window," that was nothing but silence.

Now, Boards Of Canada returns with their third album The Campfire Headphase. It adds tweaks to the BOC style and although there are shades of brilliance, this is an album that has the duo looking back at their own work for inspiration.

The real difference between this album and their first two releases is the addition of live instruments into the mix. "Chromakey Dreamcoat," the first real song on the album, is powered by a slightly out-of-key acoustic guitar sample. The acoustic guitar also figures heavily in the mellow "Satellite Anthem Icarus." The use of live instruments also leads to another way The Campfire Headphase is different from its predecessors: tighter production. This album feels more polished than BOC's other efforts. The songs are more melodic and easier to get into. The superb "Dayvan Cowboy" is a good example of this. This song builds itself for over a minute before it reveals itself. The powerful, varied percussion present on the song shows that the duo has not abandoned everything from Geogaddi. Interludes are kept to a minimum, with many of them tacked on at the end of songs. Also, The Campfire Headphase is the shortest of BOC's three albums and has less tracks than the others as well.

The final way this album differs from its predecessors is the overall feel. Each BOC album has its own feelings that it generates. Music Has The Right To Children had an eerie yet positive feeling to it while Geogaddi had a feeling that was harder-edged and at times just a little unsettling. The Campfire Headphase has an overall feeling that seems to lie somewhere between the two. Since it's clearly inspired by the childhood experience of going to camp, that makes sense. Going to camp is a love/hate experience where kids never want to go and yet never want to leave. The track progression on the album also reflects this. The stronger percussion-driven songs like "Dayvan Cowboy" and "Peacock Tail" are frontloaded on the album. As the album progresses, there are songs that are more ambient than percussive like "Ataronchronon" and "Slow This Bird Down." It leads to the album's closer "Farewell Fire," a song that very gradually devolves to silence in the same way a fire slowly goes out.

Overall, I think The Campfire Headphase is another excellent Boards Of Canada album. With tighter construction than their previous albums, the addition of live instruments, and vocal samples relegated to the background, it's probably their most accessible album to date. At the same time, I don't think it surpasses their previous work either. Although there are some very good songs to be found here, I wish that BOC took a little more risks with this album. The use of instruments is welcome, but no track on this album really stands out from the fray the way the best tracks on Geogaddi and Music Has The Right To Children did. Despite this, The Campfire Headphase is an enjoyable, nearly filler-free album that should reward fans in repeated listens until the next BOC release.

(adapted from

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

November 2005 Downtempo Releases

New downtempo releases to chill to (rated out of ***** 5 stars)

Rhian Sheehan
Tiny Blue Biosphere ****

Warm without being sappy, this difficult to define release from New Zealander Rhian Sheehan traverses a varied landscape of other-worldly ambient strings and chorales, acoustic folk and steady breakbeats. There's some inspired sampling too - the lazy electro of "Phobos" ends with a sombre church choir hovering in the ether beneath a sample of the famous anti-war speech from the end of The Day The Earth Stood Still. With one-third lyrical and two-thirds instrumental the balance is great, so that the soulful vocals of guests like Jess Chambers don't sound like a chill producer hedging bets for a mainstream that can't stomach instrumentals. Tiny Blue Biosphere may sound unremarkable at first, but a few more listens reveals some wonderful, mysterious, sensuous music.

Various Artists
Cafe Del Mar Volume 12 * 1/2

How the mighty have fallen! Last year's Cafe Del Mar Volume 11 was a solid return to form for this iconic series, an album worthy of the cafe's status as a pioneer of Balearic chillout music, a venue that "was born to put music to the sunset". But with Volume 12 we get an excess of syrupy easy-listening pop songs and kitsch Euro soundtracks all dressed in pretty floaty nothingness. And way too much saxophone of the Kenny G variety. A couple of bossanova songs like "Le Vent M'a Dit" by Mic Max have a sweet, charming simplicity and would have sat nicely among the eclecticism of earlier albums but here only highlight the total absence of quality tunes surrounding them. Perhaps tellingly, compiler and resident DJ Bruno seems to be out of the picture and this year released his own far superior solo album Puzzle.

Various Artists
Cafe Mambo Ibiza 2005 **** 1/2

One of Cafe Del Mar's near neighbors on Ibiza's sunset strip is Cafe Mambo, though any notion that Mambo lingers in the shadow of its more famous competitor should be put to rest after hearing this outstanding album. Longtime resident DJ Pete Gooding's exceptional taste and unerring ear for quality downtempo tunes ensures that his compilations set a standard rather than jump on any bandwagon. Mambo's new 2-CD release Cafe Mambo Ibiza 2005 is of a similar standard and style, although more consistently downtempo across both discs and with a bit more of a nu jazz and soul flavour. Moby also shows he can still do engaging ambient techno with "Swear", while Sebastian Tellier pulls off a stunner with the slow-building symphonic breakbeat of "La Ritournelle", a track so profoundly euphoric its overwhelming. Once again Gooding's instinct for compiling soulful songs and intelligent instrumentals is very, very impressive. Also check out Cafe Mambo's 2004 10th Anniversary release.

* Blatantly ripped off from

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