Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are Zero 7, named after an obscure South American nightclub. The duo worked through the ranks along with then-unknown Nigel Godrich as London studio engineers. They gained initial recognition with a stellar remix of Radiohead’s “Climbing up the Walls” (commissioned by Godrich while he was producing The Bends), followed by their 2001 release, Simple Things. Though accused of being Air sans irony, the debut was packed with meandering Moogs, orchestral arrangements and stunning vocal performances. It quickly climbed the charts to become a summertime down-tempo favorite in the U.K.
The record illustrated a deep knowledge of seventies soul and R&B, updated with synths, horns and an overwhelmingly warm and well-studied production sound. Simple Things became omnipresent; it had the ever-important street cred — it was a favorite of BBC Worldwide DJ Gilles Peterson — while being available for public consumption in gastropubs and fashionable high street boutiques before making a strong stateside appearance. Such widespread popularity could have been a curse, but Binns and Hardaker instead had the backbone to appreciate that they are indeed onto something.
They used similar techniques and approach they used on Simple Things on their second release, When It Falls; it’s a fluid continuation. Contrary to what some in the music press say, this is not a bad thing. Put simply, Zero 7 have created a winning formula and stick to their guns. The vocal collaborators from the first record, Mozez, Sophie Barker and Sia Furler, appear again, along with sole newbie Tina Dico, who adds her smoky voice to the folk-acoustic guitar, restrained trumpet and gentle electronic cadence of “Home.”
Opener “Warm Sounds,” featuring Mozez, is everything you enjoyed about Simple Things: warm Rhodes tones, flute, strings, with the only noticeable difference being a slightly more mature arrangement. It would be wrong to file this under the ever-increasing pile of empty chillout/down-tempo releases. Rather, When It Falls serves as a perfect soundtrack to hazy summer evening lay-abouts. Take it in gradually, let it breathe a bit, and enjoy.