About five years ago, everyone was jonesin’ for that fusion of chilled beats, acid jazz, and world beat simply known as “downtempo.” But much has changed since then. What was once cool because it sounded like French porn out of the ’60s is now uncool because it’s like French porn from the ’60s: no money shots, just a bunch of hairy ugly people gettin’ it on — who wants to watch that? Downtempo is dispassionate sex, shot through a wide-angle lens.
Blue States proves why the formula no longer works. Essentially the brainchild of producer/multi-instrumentalist Anthony Dragazis, the group’s stellar early work, exemplified on its debut, Nothing Changes Under the Sun, was guided by a child’s approach to instrumentation and arrangement, resulting in titillating buildups and featherweight hooks. Add some kind bud, and you had yourself some sweet tracks. Now, relying on essentially the same tricks for Man Mountain, Blue States — and downtempo — have worn out their welcome.
As good an example as any is the album’s first track and single, “Metro Sound” (always a bad sign, by the way, when these two things are the same). The track starts off with some maturely arranged strings that sound as if they’ve been lifted from the score to Taxi Driver. It’s a dramatic opening, but then this happens: Nothing! Ten minutes later you realize you’re three tracks into the album and you don’t remember hearing anything really different.
Newcomer Tahita Bulmer adds her sultry vocals on various tracks to break up the instrumentals, but regular inhabitants of the chillout room will recognize her voice as nothing new stylistically. The only relief from the shallow undulations of each track is “Season Song,” which features a choir of East London and Essex schoolchildren on vocals, calling to mind Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” which is reason enough to leave the needle on the record for that extra few seconds.
But the biggest pile of crap is that somewhere out there someone is saying that Man Mountain is a more “sophisticated” brand of downtempo that requires a careful listen. Fuck that. Downtempo has become three-chord punk for pseudo-intellectuals who can’t kick their weed habit.