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Get My Fill I'm Chilly Chill

TV Commercials, Old Ravers, and Australian Weirdos Surrender to Chillout's Narcoleptic Bliss

When Massive Attack introduced electronica's downtempo archetype with their 1991 debut, Blue Lines, their solution to the low energy/boredom problem was to fashion together a slew of styles and guests while presenting a unified sonic personality. British expat Charles Webster doesn't yet boast Massive's marquee draw, but his Born on the 24th of Julywalks that fine line between mix tape and single-artist identity exploration. Best known for Presence's "Sense of Danger," a house anthem worthy of singer Sharon Nelson's Massive Attack legacy, Webster here coaxes several shades of slinky r&b from rubbery beats, fat-bottom bass, and introverted cries. He could make millions with a Maxwell, but instead he comes on like a boudoir DJ—accelerating tempo, slowly segueing from ambient all the way to deep house, and building tension with each cut until the jams reach a reverie of android jizz-jazz. The French are gonna le freak.

Just a dream and the wind to carry me: Sailing takes the Avalanches away.
photo: Steve Gullick
Just a dream and the wind to carry me: Sailing takes the Avalanches away.

With so much worthwhile stuff from which to draw (and I haven't even mentioned Bent, Lemon Jelly, Fila Brazillia, dZihan & Kamien, Waldek . . . ), it's so inexplicable and yet so typical that a monstrosity like Sony could throw a few tired titles together and sell the results as something definitive. This cottage industry's most mainstream product, The Classic Chillout Album, presents Massive Attack and late cabaret folkie Eva Cassidy alike as easy listening's new New Age. There are better ways to lure the Pure Moods IIcrowd than to round up a Volkswagen jingle, Moby, and '80s Tangerine Dream under a package featuring hideous human mannequins romantically relaxing by the fire in their cavernous chateau. Inviting Maxwell, Jill Scott, and Sade to the slumber party wasn't a bad idea, but since they (along with Deep Forest, Chicane, Endorphin, Andreas Vollenweider, Titanic's James Horner, and Charlotte Church for chrissakes) are all Sony property, this act of r&b inclusivity is nothing more than licensing-lazy, star-silly, cross-marketing cheapness—dance music designed for anything but dancing can be many things, but it shouldn't be about subjecting the man who started it all, Erik Satie (1866-1925), to twiddly jungle-lite beats.

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