By Haig Assadourian
The third album from the UK producing duo of Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns' Zero 7 is a collection of catchy grooves that goes down easy and has enough depth in songwriting to keep your interest. The opening track, "Futures," introduces the first of several subdued, almost sanguine vocals from guest singer Jose Gonzalez. This passage reminds one of a Crosby, Stills & Nash melody that segues into a sonic loop that at first listen had me inspecting my music player for skipping.
"Throwing it All Away" and "The Pageant of the Bizarre" each build on a distinctively pop sound with subtly upbeat brass horns on top of catchy electro grooves. Both tunes employ a decidedly Beach Boys like warmth in vocal harmonies and chord progressions. Sia Furler's seductive vocals on "This Fine Social Scene" and other tracks bely the wry lyrical contents. The simple and elegant production on this album really stands out. "Your Place" expands into a horn jam on slinky drums before chilling down.
While The Garden delivers satisfying emotive folky electronica, it sometimes suffers from meandering build-ups with limited payoff. "Crosses" layers its varied rhythms up to a boogie crescendo, but Gonzalez's vocals remain subdued, almost oblivious to the musical landscape. It's a unique album that signs off with a song called "Waiting to Die" with ironically uplifting horn flourishes. The juxtaposition of serious lyrical concepts with sunny pop-influenced melodies likens this album to Steely Dan recordings and certainly contributes welcome substance to the electronica genre.
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