Album Review: Zero 7 – E.P.3

By on Monday, 13th April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Good news, electronic fans! There’s a brand new album from pioneers Zero 7 expected to drop this autumn. Further good news? Today marks the release of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker’s newest stop-gap until the new LP, an EP with the rather non-descript title of ‘E.P.3’. But there’s a method to the madness: the first two releases from the duo, before they ever caught the eye of a major label, were named ‘E.P.1 and ‘E.P.2’, so the name of the new EP is in deference to their humble beginnings.

And humble would be the operative word to describe this collection of five tracks from the famed electronic production duo. While the first two tracks feature names from their ‘Simple Science’ EP released last year (Danny Pratt and Only Girl), their third collaborator was dug up from much further back, a clear sign this is an entirely different animal to the summer 2014 release.

Swedish singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez, member of Junip and a solo artist in his own right touring North America at the moment, doesn’t strike you as an appropriate musical partner to Zero 7, does he? But he appeared on several songs on the 2006 Zero 7 album ‘The Garden’. On this outing, Gonzalez adds smoky vocals to ‘Last Light’, evoking scenes of nature and security (“keep you safe and sound / ‘til you feel the same”) to the piano and synth-driven soundscape. The synths keep the mood bright, but the overall effect is one of thought and contemplation.

‘Last Light’ isn’t exactly the club banger I was expecting, but Binns and Hardaker explain the premise of this EP: “Late last year we finished a couple of stray songs we’d been working on and have been trying to find a suitable home for them since. As they didn’t really fit with much else we were doing at the time, they were put aside while we thought about what to do with them…. To us, they seemed to share something with the Mark Hollis cover we did a while ago so we’ve buddied them up and thrown in a little instrumental for good measure and come up with the imaginatively entitled it ‘E.P.3’. Hope you enjoy.”

Given the above, the chill nature of the collaborations with Danny Pratt (who guested on ‘Simple Science’) and Only Girl (vocalist on ‘Take Me Away’) on ‘E.P.3’ compared to those on the ‘Simple Science’ EP make much more sense. Pratt’s part on ‘400 Blows’ in staccato form, melodically and as overlaid with vibrating effects, matches the purposely jumpy synth and xylophone notes, which the backing piano reins everything in. To be sure, it’s catchy. The EP ends strangely with John Wizard’s remix of the track, in which the South African producer loses the plot and takes ‘400 Blows’ and turns it into an electronic caricature of the original.

‘The Colour of Spring’ is at perfect timing with the season, starting in with the chirps of birds, and like on ‘Take Me Away’, Only Girl’s vocals are again ethereal, but this time the understated instrumentation allows her voice to come forward, front and centre. It’s equal parts stunning and haunting. ‘Crush Tape’, the only instrumental on the EP, is filled with handclaps and effortless cool. I have to wonder if it was the starting point for ‘400 Blows’, as it seems to be the latter’s purer, more enigmatic cousin.

The biggest question is, what direction are Zero 7 going for this upcoming album? They went pop in the ‘Simple Science’ EP, but it is as if ‘E.P.3’ doesn’t want to acknowledge the 2014 effort. Interesting. In any event, Binns and Hardaker will keep us guessing until the leaves start changing colour.

7/10

Both the 12″ vinyl and the digital download versions of Zero 7’s latest release on Make Records, ‘E.P.3’, are out now. Past writings on TGTF about Zero 7, including a chat with Henry Binns last year, are this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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