Written by 4:24 am Audiophile Music

15 Years On, Zero 7’s Simple Things Makes Its Vinyl Debut

Mark Smotroff discovers a downtempo classic for the first time…

Some of you readers might be surprised to find out that I am a fan of some modern electronica and even soul-infused hip-hop-ish sub genres like Acid Jazz, Trip Hop, etc. I use the term “fan” loosely in that I’ve not (yet) gone super deep on collecting the complete catalogs of some of these artists I like — something I tend to with artist or groups I really get into, sort of obsessively.  

But I know it has surprised some of my friends when they have found out that I do have in my collection more than a few albums by the likes of Meshell Ndegeocello, Toro Y Moi, Massive Attack, The Orb, Discovery and such. 

AR-Zero7225.jpgI own albums and singles by Depeche Mode, The Human League, New Order and OMD.  

Heck, I have long owned (and enjoyed) the lone album by The Silicon Teens, the virtual group formed by Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records.

I’m not just all about the British Invasion and the later New Wave… and Jazz… and Heavy Metal… and Prog Rock….. and Classical… and Folk… 

(It is kinda hard to pin me down to any one category….)

Going back further to some of the older school roots that helped inspire music like what I’m going to talk about in a short bit… I’m a long time fan of Brian Eno’s ambient works as well as his spin off projects and collaborations with the likes of Laraaji, Harold Budd, Daniel Lanois and Robert Fripp.  I like the modern minimalist classical composer Philip Glass a whole bunch. And you can’t really be a fan of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” without exploring one of the grandaddies of all things minimalism, Terry Riley (and his seminal composition, “In C”).

All of these types of music tie together and have in many ways influenced one another over the years. 

Every now and then an album will jump out at me and grab me by the throat due its fine combination of melodic hooks, cool production aesthetics and overall feel.  One such discovery happened recently while I was in Orlando on a vacation trip and had the good fortune to meet a local record collector / DJ who took me around to some of his favorite haunts. One such off the beaten track place was a fine and funky little store called East West Music. As I started looking through their used and collectible albums bins, some haunting music came on that caught my ear and made me stop what I was doing and run up to the counter to ask: What Is This??

(No, I didn’t even THINK to consider using my iPhone’s Shazam app — and I’m glad I didn’t as I wouldn’t have heard the following….)

The woman running the store smiled at me widely and showed me the album by Zero 7 called Simple Things and exclaimed something like (loosely paraphrased) : ‘Its only the best album that came out in 2000! People say there is no good new music anymore but there is!  And it has just has been reissued on vinyl for the first time in the U.S.’  

She was genuinely excited about this release and I can understand why…

AR-07LP180Gram225.jpgNow, before I go much further, this is a good time for me to remind you all, Dear Readers, of the fact that — well, at least in my experiences — one of the best ways to discover new music is to visit and spend some time in physical music stores, where the staff are privy to the latest things and are on top of cool things their customers might be into. More often than not, the stores with staff who have good taste in music tend to stay in business longer too.  This is how I learned about The Smiths, The Cure, Built To Spill, Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, Caspian, The Bongos, Marshall Crenshaw, Elvis Costello, and so many others.  And now I’m adding Zero 7 to that list. 

Not on radio. Not on the Internet. Not even by world of mouth from friends. I got my first tastes of all of these artists at a physical brick-and-morter record store.  

(So get out to a store and shop for some music already!!)

Anyhow, back to my shopping experience at East West… so as I flipped through the used bins, I listened attentively more and more to this Zero 7 album they were playing and was digging it more and more. 

Yeah… I was digging it… Ya dig?!!

So, by the time we had to leave, the only album I actually bought was in fact this sealed, brand new long playing vinyl record reissue of the album called Simple Things by Zero7.  

]]>And when I got back home to California to play it, I’m pleased to report that it is everything I remember and more.

AR-Zero7innersleeve225.jpgSimple Things sounds great with a nice mix of real instruments (strings, live drums, guitars and such) and sampled / synthesized sounds. The album was originally on a single CD but on LP it is spread out over two nice, thick, perfectly centered and dead quiet 180-gram black vinyl records.  The recording quality is solid and while it was probably at some point in the food chain recorded with some sort of digital technology — it was released in 2000, after all — overall it sounds great. Even when I turn up the volume real loud, I did not detect any real feeling of digital harshness (a sign of good production and mastering, at least to my ear). The drums sound mostly live in nature (vs. obvious samples and loop styled production) with crisp natural decaying cymbals and the acoustic guitar parts are sweet, full and round. 

What’s that? You are surprised to read that there is acoustic guitar on a chill out, downtempo, hip hop flavored record?  Heck, I even hear a Mellotron in there! There are even soft little trumpet sounds on this album that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Carpenters record (as played by Herb Alpert). 

(Hell yeah! Carpenters rule, dude!) 

But seriously, what can I say but Zero 7’s Simple Things sounds really really nice. I can see why subgenres were created to help define this music (ie. “downtempo” , “chillwave” etc.) because its definitely not hip hop, although it could be argued to be influenced by some hip hop styles.  I’ll put it this way, if you liked the way Beck blended grooves on his brilliant Grammy winning Morning Phase album last year, then you need to hear a track like “Destiny” — with vocals by Sia — which sounds sort of like a blueprint for that work. I mean this in the best possible way, mind you. 

Ok, a important side track:  it must be noted that I think this is probably some great make out music…  

I haven’t tried it yet, but there, I said it. Yup, I suspect you can play Zero 7 right next to your favorite hot-buttered, long-lasting Issac Hayes soul jams and you’ll be set for hours. 

All you need is an automatic record changer (or 8-track player) to complete the vibe.  

AR-Zero7Live225.jpgThe album’s title track has a gorgeous chorus that makes me wonder if one of my favorite British Invasion bands has listened to this album along the way in recent years. The hooky melody underlying the “everyday” line on that song “Simple Things” is loosely echoed on a beautiful bluesy song by none other than The Zombies on their last studio release (Breathe Out, Breathe In on a song called “I Do Believe”). Both tunes were probably influenced by some gospel tune the writers heard somewhere in Church along the way.  There are other stand out tracks — such as “Red Dust” which sounds like a Radiohead instrumental without the angst, with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull sitting in for good measure (no, he’s not on it, but the flautist sounds very much like him).  

Ok, I could babble on more about this but I think you get the idea that you need to hear Zero 7’s Simple Things, if you haven’t heard it before. If you have heard or owned it only on CD, you’ll probably want it on LP.  Its a sweet one.

Simple Things is going to stick around in my current play bin for some time, I suspect. This is the good stuff.

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