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Saturday, February 02, 2008


ModMusic: Morcheeba/Supreme Beings of Leisure

There are a lot of reasons I'm arbitrarily grouping together the California duo Supreme Beings of Leisure and the British act Morcheeba. They both have new albums coming out later this month (11i and Dive Deep, respectively). They are both, spiritually and literally, next-generation survivors of the 90's trip-hop/acid jazz wave (although they've gone in very different directions since). And perhaps most tellingly, they both hold uneasy places in my music collection. Although I recognize the artistry of both groups, in the past I've found them difficult to love, a bit impenetrable; in my opinion, SBOL suffers from a cooler-than-thou musical veneer, while the imperturbable grooves of Morcheeba always struck me as music to get stoned to...and the older I get, the less interesting that seems (spiritually, if not literally). Listening to the advances copies of the two new discs this week, I couldn't escape the feeling that one group had matured (perhaps at its peril) while the other was still coasting on old tricks.

The coasters are Supreme Beings of Leisure, who burst on the scene in 2000 from the ashes of an earlier act, garnering deserved attention with the single "Strangelove Addiction" -- undoubtedly, one of my favorite songs of this decade. Sadly, nothing on 11i even approaches that song's urgency or infectiousness; the mood is a moderately funky groove that lolls and lazes through your ears, determined to avoid anything that might resemble a peak or valley. The production quality is impeccable, and SBOL gets bonus points for the diverse influences they incorporate into the disc. But all too often, it feels like a setup. "Swallow" begins promisingly, with an orchestral flourish and insistent rhythm...and never does anything else. (Even worse are misguided efforts like "Oneness," which sound like the musical equivalent of bored doodling.) The best of the 11-track, hour-long set is "Good," which benefits from an unusually spare arrangement. The Leisure Beings have always had enormous potential; I hope I live long enough to see them realize it.

If SBOL is resting on laurels, though, Morcheeba is desperately trying to evolve...and the results, like those of most mid-career artists seeking reinvention, are mixed. It can't be overstated how sad the loss of vocalist Skye Edwards is; she was unceremoniously dumped from the band in 2003 after nine faithful years, and the revolving coterie of replacements since have failed to live up to Edwards' silvery, iconic voice. It's too bad, too...there are some interesting intersections on Dive Deep. While the first single, "Enjoy The Ride," sounds like a pale imitation of earlier work, the album peppers Morcheeba's bass-and-synth trademarks with country signatures (slide guitars and mouth harp on "Run Honey Run") and -- shock of shocks -- a pop-friendly hook on "Blue Chair." Perhaps even more surprising is "Riverbed," a leisurely stroll that borders on the turf of a heartsick romantic, which reminded me simultaneously of the Cocteau Twins and John Mayer...and it's better than that may sound, I promise. While the vocal work of session players Judie Tzuke, Thomas Dybdahl and others isn't up to the music's adventurousness, Dive Deep is still a fascinating slice of atmospheric pop.

Watch Morcheeba:
"Rome Wasn't Built In A Day", Morcheeba
"Undress Me Now", Morcheeba
"Enjoy The Ride", Morcheeba
Download Morcheeba: "Riverbed"
Visit Morcheeba: Site, MySpace, Elbo.ws, iTunes
Then Buy: Dive Deep, Morcheeba

Watch Supreme Beings of Leisure:
"Strangelove Addiction", Supreme Beings of Leisure
"Never The Same", Supreme Beings of Leisure
Download Supreme Beings of Leisure: "Good"
Visit Supreme Beings of Leisure: MySpace, Elbo.ws, iTunes
Then Buy: 11i, Supreme Beings of Leisure

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