After proving their talent on Simple Things and When It Falls, Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, the producers and masterminds behind Zero 7, are testing new waters. The warm, downbeat sounds that comprised the first two albums have been put on the back burner; a richer, darker and more upbeat sound is what’s cooking on The Garden.The musical shift is immediately apparent with an acoustic guitar introduction in “Futures.” Newcomer Jose Gonzalez, the Swedish singer-songwriter, delivers such delicate, impeccable vocal harmonies. The acoustic, short track, “Left Behind,” is a closer match to Elliot Smith than Air. The strong bossa nova beat that is placed in the foreground of “Today” is unprecedented.
Sia Furler has returned for The Garden, making this her third album with Zero 7. Her sultry vocals have become an identifying feature for the group, however the vocal harmonies provided by Furler, Gonzalez and producer Henry Binns are the highlights. “This Final Social Scene” sets its groove and immediately introduces the male harmonies with Furler’s vocals.
“The Pageant of the Bizarre” and “Waiting To Die” are likely favorites. The strong backbeat in “Pageant” is matched by light and staccato broken chords, while Sia’s effortless vocals morph into choral blues. The walking bass line and bright melodies contradict a song dedicated to death in “Waiting to Die.”
The album falls a little short with the staunch electronic beats resembling a video game and not a groove in “Seeing Things.” Several musical tastings are provided, further illustrating Zero 7’s attempt to branch out; listeners will be impressed if not enamored by them all.
Fans may be surprised by the new endeavor, but they won’t be upset. Zero 7 has planted a seed, and The Garden is the first spring.