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
Chillout, as a genre, has changed in meaning over the years. The burbling, beautiful downtempo of rave back rooms has been pretty well bleached of its experimentalism and become something to listen while you sip a Mich Ultra, not come down from Ecstasy. It's aural Paxil.
Just type in the word "chillout" into allmusic.com's album database and marvel: From KLF's incredible lost masterpiece, Chill Out (1990), to 2003's Gregorian Chillout, you can watch the power of the phrase decay right before your eyes. Chillout is now New Age music for people who think they're too hip for New Age music.
This helps explain why Billboard's New Age chart seems stuck in the past, with Yanni, Mannheim Steamroller and Vangelis all occupying spots in the top fifteen and five other spots taken by collections with names such as Pure Moods: Celestial Celebrations and Windham Hill Chill. The new age of New Age isn't being classified as such.
What makes modern chillout collections like Nettwerk's The Best of Chillout Past and Present less dismissible and more frustrating than those New Age discs is their insistence on occasionally throwing in a great song or two into the mix. Past and Present opens up strongly, with a DJ Downfall remix of the Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" that throbs and oscillates while still keeping the fragile beauty of the original. A decent BT track follows, leading to the standout track on the album: a dubby Mad Professor remix of Massive Attack's "Teardrop," which proves that Massive should have had the Jamaican DJ join the band when they collaborated on the sprawling, near-perfect No Protection. This version of "Teardrop" buckles and breathes, lacing Elizabeth Frazer's gorgeous vocals with shambling, echoing beats.
Then come the Sarah McLachlan and Dido remixes, and it's Red Zinger time. An unneeded revisit to Moby's "Porcelain" and some sludgy blue-eyed balladry from Alpha set the tone for the final, boring half of the disc (with the exception of a lovely Duotone remix of Ivy's "Edge of the Ocean"). The people at Nettwerk ought to know the difference between the wheat and the chaff, and you can only hope they're trying to be subversive by slipping some truly great music onto what amounts to a yuppie pacifier. Best of it certainly isn't.