They're the British Air, and they're very good
Zero 7 are ex-studio engineers Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, whose reputation as the British Air rests on a couple of sublime, deleted EPs and a handful of remixes (the best being last year’s epic soul reworking of Lambchop’s ‘Up With People’). Though they share a certain sun-kissed ’70s wistfulness with the French band, Zero 7 are a much less sinister – and ironic – proposition.
As folky as they’re funky, Zero 7 make the type of acoustic, organic dance music which used to elude British acts like Ultramarine. Roughly half their music’s instrumental; the rest uses soulful vocals from a variety of session singers, the best being the swooping, almost operatic Mozez.
If you missed the EPs, ‘Simple Things’ offers a hefty six tracks. ‘This World’, from EP1, is a yearning tour de force worthy
of Jimmy Webb, while EP2’s ‘Give It Away’ swirls into a summer pocket symphony. They feel simultaneously fresh and as if you’ve known them all your life. The five non-EP tracks don’t quite scale those heights (‘Destiny’ errs dangerously near to the spot on the map marked ‘here be Morcheeba’), though the opener ‘I Have Seen’ has the kind of dazed warmth Beth ‘Deaf’ Orton would sell her granny glasses for.
Despite being as immaculately played and produced as you might expect a record made by two Quincy Jones-obsessed studio boffins to be, ‘Simple Things’ is neither bland nor bombastic. They even get away with ‘Likufanele’, an ode to childbirth sung by South African nurses. Though it sounds as painful as childbirth on the page, in practice it’s a totally joyful conclusion to the album (hidden track faff-about aside). After the dark clouds of trip-hop, ‘Simple Things’ restakes a genuine claim for downbeat British dance music and is a classic summer record into the bargain. Up the 7!