Among the more enjoyable offspring of the electro-dance movement is chill-out music -- sounds that help bring a listener down from the ecstatic highs generated by house and other club-friendly styles. But as the form's popularity has grown, so, too, have the number of chillers-come-lately who seem to think their job is to put listeners to sleep, not ease them into sharply attentive mellowness. In recent months, the market has been flooded with compilations that sport interchangeable cover shots of emaciated models on Mediterranean beaches and opaque ditties that wouldn't seem all that out of place on the sort of new-age albums sold at Target.
Fortunately, Naked Music, the imprint most responsible for spreading word of the subgenre beyond the party set, hasn't succumbed to mediocrity. Bare Essentials Vol. 2, the label's latest roundup, may not be its finest offering to date, but it's a consistent pleasure that seldom crosses the line from soothing into somnambulant.
Although it might seem contradictory, beats are the key to this music; without intriguing rhythms, the songs' moderate tempos would likely feel sluggish, turgid. An act called Aquanote demonstrates this principle on "Nowhere," which leads off the proceedings. By placing a light but substantial virtual groove in the forefront of the mix, the performers give the cut momentum that boosts the urgency of Zoe Ellis's magnetic, diva-ready crooning and the seductive guitar plucking of Johnny Downer. Later, on Central Living's "Inside," a steady thump and a busy bass line keep company with soulful wailing and tasteful dollops of wah-wah guitar, while Miguel Migs's "The Night" puts a propulsive clap track at the service of a soundscape filled with dance-floor echoes.
As for "Try," credited to "Arvid featuring Ernestos," it shows what happens if the beats disappear. The song works well when its speedy synth-drums are chattering, but when they give way to resounding keyboard tones and burbling bass, the offering turns into jazz fuzak of the most innocuous sort. Still, such slips are rare on Bare Essentials Vol. 2. The disc as a whole is relaxing yet reinvigorating: chill-out music that won't knock you out cold.
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