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Dial M for Monkey

Wednesday, Aug 20 2003
A little over a decade ago, downtempo producers needed an expert's knowledge of all recorded music from the previous 20 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 musicmaking 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, although I wouldn't recommend it). Thankfully, 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 (aka Simon Green), Dial "M" for Monkey, are great to make the love to, they might also suit nine out of 10 members of the U.N., as they're chock-full of worldly sounds. Indian sitars are Green's weapon of choice, but the fun don't stop there: Tablas, strings, chimes, flutes, organs, and what seems 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 gently set the 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; they create an overall mood rather than stand on their own. If, however, you're in that mood -- and I'm pretty sure 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.

About The Author

Garrett Kamps


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