Zero 7: Record

RIYL: Alan Parsons Project, Radiohead, Jose Gonzalez

Zero 7, the collaborative effort between two esteemed producers, Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, keeps chugging along with some of the most intriguing electronic mood pop out there. So it should be no surprise that when the two went back into their catalog to put a “best of” collection together for Zero 7, they had a difficult task – choosing the most awesome tracks out of an already awesome catalog. But maybe the best part of all with the final product, humbly titled Record, is that Hardaker and Binns did not choose the obvious tracks -and that alone makes Record a pretty special collection. Sure, there are the standouts like “Futures,” sung by the remarkable Jose Gonzalez; the bouncy “Throw it All Away,” and the dreamy “Home,” one of the best Zero 7 tracks of all. But then the duo dig a bit deeper into the likes of the jazz-flavored “I Have Seen,” the soulful “Destiny,” sung by the sultry Sia; and “Swing,” the best track from their latest album The Garden. There are also some tasty instrumentals here, like “Polaris” and “Salt Water Sound.” All in all, you’d have a hard time making your own Zero 7 iTunes mix that turns out this sweet. Instead, just like with the music itself, it’s better to leave this one to the experts. (Atlantic 2010)

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Junip: Fields

RIYL: The Radio Dept, Elbow, Kings of Convenience

José González is best known for his Nick Drake-inspired brand of hushed folk. His haunting and ethereal vocal presence has garnered the Swedish singer-songwriter a sizable following throughout the indie world. Despite a steady flow of EPs and two studio albums for Mute Records, González has still found time to work with Junip – the trio he helped form in the late ‘90s. Where his solo material is often sparse in everything from instrumentation to its production, Junip offers González a broader sonic palette to work from.

Junip’s first two releases, Black Refugee EP (2005) and this year’s Rope and Summit EP, showcased the Swedes backing González’s sweetened melodies and delicate vocal delivery with a fuller, much richer arrangement style. Fields delivers on the promise of Junip’s prior studio offerings, with one hypnotizing track after the other. The band weaves the kinds of subtle melodic nuances that seep into your head without you even knowing it. There are several of these little hooks in every song, and new ones often reveal themselves with each repeated listen.

Produced by the band and Don Alsterberg, Fields has some of the better keyboard tones (courtesy of Tobias Winterkorn) in recent memory. The warmth and chameleon-like way of fitting its surroundings make the keyboards one of the highlights on an album with many. Songs like “Always” and “Faded to the Grain” find a group that proves that genuine song craft is not a dead art form. Fields might be too sophisticated for modern rock radio, but in a perfect world, Junip would be playing stadiums along with Coldplay. (Mute 2010)

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