By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
A little over a decade ago, downtempo producers needed an expert's knowledge of all recorded music from the previous twenty years to sniff out their boogiein' beats, scratchy vocal samples, nifty organ riffs and all the other elements that, when properly sampled and sequenced, became perfect fodder for the now-extinct chill-out rooms of yesteryear. Today, downtempo music-making instructions come in Cracker Jack boxes, so mediocre examples of the genre are as ubiquitous as those paint-it-yourself pottery boutiques. At the very least, you have to pick your mellow-tronica carefully (or let Starbucks' and Banana Republic's handy "Relaxed Dinner Party" music compilations do it for you). Fortunately, all hope is not lost for the style: Some artists are still doing good work. One of them is named after a primate.
While the blunted beats on the second album by Bonobo (a.k.a. Simon Green), Dial "M" for Monkey, are great to make love to, its worldly sounds might also suit nine out of ten members of the U.N. Indian sitars are Green's weapon of choice, but the fun doesn't stop there: Tablas, strings, chimes, flutes, organs and what seem like samples from a Bernard Herrmann film score (Psycho, Taxi Driver) make their way into the mix, which is held down by warm/fuzzy rhythms that set the gentle pace, lazily paddling this fun-boat full of sounds down a scenic sonic river. And ultimately it's fun that saves Green's music from the aloof ways of its self-satisfied forefathers. Jubilant and playful, these sultry, slow-rollin' songs are for modern lovers with a taste for irony, not for their Don Juan counterparts whose idea of Spanish fly is Kruder & Dorfmeister's The K&D Sessions, some mustache wax and a black silk robe.
Like some of the best, and worst, in the genre, the songs on Dial "M" tend to bleed together, creating an overall mood rather than standing on their own. If, however, you're in that mood -- and our sources tell us there are still dudes on Haight Street who sell that mood for $10 or so -- this is your music: professional-grade downtempo for an amateur-saturated marketplace.