Album + Compilation
Sleepy, reassuring, perfect for "tasteful" middle-class dinner parties attended by bored couples with any rough-edge individuality long since quashed - Zero 7 can absorb a lot of perfectly fair, pertinent slights and still somehow sound impressive. Perhaps it's because there's so little going on at the surface here that the avid music fan is forced to scrutinise, to prod the soporific veneer and see if there any crawly wriggly things underneath.
If you peer hard enough, there are. Subtly, slow-burningly, Zero 7's wispy, placid emissions reveal charm and interest value; even the occasional surprise. This Best Of (with an extra disc of remixes, some old, some new) is every bit as "chill-out", or "ambient", or "very 2001", as you know it will be. Yet if you've always dismissed them as Air without the "we're-French-and-therefore-innately-arty" card to play, listen carefully. There's (mildly) inventive, (faintly) challenging stuff going on. Their harmless, scare-no-horses breeze carries a few grits.
It's difficult to find the mark of the auteur in a duo (Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker) whose identity (or lack of) was defined by shifting, usually female, guest vocalists. A decade and four albums in, from 2001's Mercury-nominated Simple Things via 2006's Grammy-nominated The Garden to 2009's Yeah Ghost, Zero 7 have mastered the genre of vague, personality-swerving, reasonably enchanting, light groove-pop. Big on atmosphere, tiny on character. Zoom in, however, and there's intrigue in the way Futures eases in like something from Pink Floyd's Meddle before climaxing in swathes of scratching. The snarled vocal on You're My Flame is so repressed it's howling. Even the laid-back, prone Polaris (which could pass as a Moon Safari outtake) breaks midway into fat beats and squawks. Home is droopily mellow until atonal horns and strings slide in from nowhere. Similarly, Distractions builds slowly from generic to weird, turbo-boosted trip hop with shades of Portishead borrowing shades of Isaac Hayes.
The remixes push further, with those by Stereolab and Metronomy the most heated. Yes, this at-heart innocuous music is for relaxing into, with no insolent questions asked. Dare to ask a few though, and it often responds with spry, fluid answers.