Looking back on the '90s, it's clear that most, if not every, significant musical current of the decade was built around the rediscovery and representation of forgotten or overlooked styles from the past. Whether it was Seattle's version of punk, D'Angelo's revival of '70s soul, the legions of swing bands, surf bands, or Grateful Dead-inspired jam bands, it seemed every serious musician started out listening to stuff the "in crowd" at the time wouldn't be caught dead playing.
Lounge music is one of the better examples of this trend. Vilified in the jazz world, laughed off by rock, and unexploited by hip-hop sampling practices, easy listening and cocktail tunes were for Buick drivers and supermarket Muzak stations alone. Of course, much lounge music still is, but dedicated compilers are unearthing some quality threads from its golden age and packaging them for the after-party chill-out set. Eighteenth Street Lounge, a swanky Washington, D.C., club and record label partially run by downtempo producers Thievery Corporation, submits two tasty samplers in this vein: Easy Tempo and Jet Society.
The former is a collection of Italian film soundtracks from 1967 to 1986, actually taken from the hard-to-find Italian Easy Tempo series of import compilations. While none of the titles of the movies are provided, one could imagine bad guys with fezzes chasing a dapper hero in an Alfa Romeo, and love scenes with women in big sunglasses. Lush horn sections, breezy flute leads, electric guitars playing rhythm, organs, and the female chanteuse sinning in the monotone peculiar to French pop are typical of the bulk of the tracks. Jet Society maps the work of present-day lounge artists from Portugal, Norway, and France, among others. Featuring standout tracks by the Bobby Hughes Experience and Mo' Horizons, Jet Society picks up where Easy Tempo leaves off, preserving the spirit of groovy, understated easy listening and space age jazz. The beats benefit from sequencing technology and Latin rhythm influences unavailable in '70s Italy, but the overall project is the same -- coaxing discerning listeners into an extended state of chill. It's absolute proof that music can be unchallenging without becoming a guilty pleasure for the pop-wary.