Zero 7 Play Their Song ‘Likufanele’

zero_7_-_simple_things_-_album_cover_frontListen to this song by British ambient soul-jazz duo Zero7 with a prime cut off of their 2001 debut album.  It’s “Likufanele”, and the album in question is one of my favourites of that year, Simple Things.

It’s been argued that this band created some momentum in a new form of easy listening.  I suppose that can be argued pretty well.   It’s true that Zero 7 can now be heard in places that you once found a lot of easy listening stalwarts.   Yet, if this is the case, then maybe easy listening just got more interesting.  Let’s take a look at this piece which seems to be mixing African choral music, with 60s Burt Bacharach orchestral pop, with 90s trip-hop.   As much as I hate the idea of ‘functional’ music, if you’re stuck in a dentist office waiting to be fitted for headgear, you could do worse than hearing this piece.

But, before you think I’m damning this tune with faint praise, I’d like to say that there is something about this song, and the whole album in fact which just resonates with people – even with music snobs like myself.  Here’s my theory.

There are people who go about their lives not noticing music playing.  When they’re at the supermarket, the coffee shop, the gym, the spa, wherever, if there’s music playing they don’t notice it unless it’s innocuous enough to cease to ‘function’  wherever  it happens to be playing.  Zero 7 works for them, creating a mood for them to ignore the music to.  Then, there’s people like myself.

Zero 7 are Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, two former record studio tea boys with some ambition to make records of their own.  They had an initial career remixing the work of others, including Radiohead and Lambchop. In teaming up with vocalists Mozez and Sia Furler, their debut album was an immediate success.

I notice music everywhere.  Every place I go, I am distracted by it.  I can’t ignore it.  So, for me it has to be good, not just functional, not just aural wallpaper as I go about my daily life.  It can’t be boring, either.  Zero 7, and ‘Likufanele’ (translated from the Zulu, meaning ‘it suits you’…) work for me, too.  I love the enmeshing of the voices as they build-up, the warm sounds of the flugelhorn and the vibraphone, the sumptuous strings,  the jazzy 70s flute, the spacey synths, and the Fender Rhodes piano.  And I like the repeating chord structure, that seems to activate a memory of childhood which I can’t quite put my finger on.

Some types of music are easier to listen to than others. But, just because its ‘easy’ like this, it doesn’t mean it has to be uninteresting too.  I think it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to strike that type of balance.  And that is the key to Zero 7’s success.

For more information about Zero 7, check out the Zero 7 official web page.


Lambchop “Up With People” Re-Mixed by Zero 7

Listen to this track of the Zero 7 re-mix of Lambchop’s “Up With People”, a track featured in its original form on the Nashville collective’s Nixon album from 2000.

Lambchop emerged in the mid-90s, a collective of musicians under the musical direction of vocalist and songwriter Kurt Wagner.  With an eclectic mix of styles, the group are identified mainly by the sort of brittle beauty to be found in the arrangements, and in Wagner’s impressionistic lyrics, delivered in a hushed sung-spoken baritone, as if being whispered in your ear.  Although in the centre of it all in Nashville, the band’s major appeal is in the UK, which may be how British duo Zero 7 came to serve as re-mix producers on this tune.

It’s hard to place exactly where this song fits in terms of genre.  It certainly touches on the restrained sub genre of Americana, with some orchestral pop overtones, choral gospel and smooth soul thrown in. This is true of most of Lambchop’s music, which may be one of the reasons it’s so compelling.

Ultimately, “Up With People” is a mood piece about the state of the world, about our lack of perspective as to where we’re steering our own destiny.  The cool lounge-jazz that vaguely evokes a 70s feel brought out in the re-mix really bring out some of the contrast in it.  The song itself is successful in mirroring what many consider to be a pervasive form of delusional optimism that the world will take care of itself, even as ‘we are screwing up our lives today’.  If the sound of the song embodies the optimism, then Wagner’s lyrics undercut it by revealing the foolhardy choice of not taking responsibility for the excesses of our culture.

For more about Lambchop, check out their MySpace page

And for Zero 7, you’d do well to check our their MySpace page too