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Zero 7 - Yeah Ghost

A far from satisfying release from a group that usually delivers.

Zero 7

undeniably come out of the darker, down-tempo shadows of their musical pasts to fully embrace the sunshine on their relentlessly optimistic and breezy new album ‘Yeah Ghost’. The London duo has mostly done away with the sombre, moody tones that were layered throughout their earlier work, turning instead to overt pop influences and buoyant female vocals that serve to elevate their understated beats. And while Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker continue to come up with intriguing electronic beats and rhythms throughout the album, the songs themselves become defined by the overly sunny vocals that seem to dominate nearly every track, making this album sound far too radio friendly, and, quite frankly, like the half-baked recent output of Basement Jaxx.

Much of the vocals on the album are handled by Londoner Eska Mtungwazi (who has worked in the past with Matthew Herbert and Bugs In The Attic), and while her voice is strong and clean, there is an undeniable cheery pop side to her delivery and the lyrics themselves that brings these songs precipitously close to girl-group easy cheese. ‘Mr. McGee’ is a fine example of this, as the muted, stuttering beats layered behind Mtungwazi’s warbling eventually are released in an interminably lively chorus that becomes a bit more grating with each listen. There is enough going on musically to keep things interesting, but the Top-40 vocals become all one hears as the track drags on. ‘Swing’ also suffers from the same faults, just this time with irksome steel drums.

Binns straightforward vocals (yes, he sings on this one) don’t work well on the Zinedine Zidane tribute ‘Everything Up (Zizou)’, specifically due to his subdued voice often overwhelming the intriguing drum beats, hypnotic bass lines and various electronic bells and whistles that the group is more known for. It’s a clear example of how much the loss of frequent guest vocalist Sia Furler has negatively affected the bands sound. Fortunately, there are other golden voiced ladies that step in here to save Binns from singing again, but Martha Tilston’s breathless vocals are ruined a bit on ‘Pop Art Blue’ by truly dreadful lyrics that are repeated ad nauseam. And the deplorable lead single ‘Medicine Man’ continues down the same abysmal path of the earlier tracks on the record, with Mtungwazi sounding like she’s auditioning for Pop Idol as opposed to layering her vocals over some of the more talented beat-makers of the decade. It’s pure, tasteless bubblegum, and loses whatever flavor it has before the song even gets to the chorus.

‘Ghost sYMbOL’ is a compelling step in the right direction, and saves the record from being a complete bust. It features the haunting vocals of (according to the press release) ‘the mysterious Jackie Daniels,’ and finds Binns and Hardaker returning to their darker sensibilities, layering choppy vocals over a roiling sonic soundscape that is ever changing and eventually dissolves in smoke before you can ever place whether you’ve heard anything like it before. That grittier sound also works well on the propulsive ‘Sleeper’, which finds Mtungwazi’s vocals drenched under funky samples and bouncy beats which sound fresh and dynamic. ‘Solastalgia’ serves as a sullen two minute introduction to the even more somber ‘The Road’, which is pleasant enough, but never really resonates fully and is over before achieving any lasting impact.

The brooding six minute instrumental ‘All Of Us’ closes out the record well, and echoes what has made Zero 7 so successful over the years; dense, textured beats and rhythms that effortlessly transport the listener to a different place entirely. But too much of ‘Yeah Ghost’ sounds like either rehashed Top 40 girl groups or ambient-lite twaddle, and leaves the listener desperately wanting to be taken somewhere new. But unfortunately the musical landscapes crafted by ‘Zero 7’ on this record are far too familiar to be thought of as transcendent, and ultimately proves to be a far from satisfying release from a group that usually delivers more.

Tags: Zero 7, Reviews, Album Reviews

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