Record Review - 3 May 13 2004

When coined, the term "trip-hop" originally referred to a genre imbued with a looming sense of dread. Now the best it can muster is turning warmth chill and tension flaccid. Somewhere along the tracks — crystallized by the 1997 release of Kid Loco's A Grand Love Story and Air's Moon Safari — "downbeat" gently strolled off to form its own commune. From that collective subconscious of bachelor-pad bop have risen groups such as Zero 7, the British duo of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker.

When It Falls is Zero 7's sophomore release, and in the aching shuffle can be found the DNA — passed down directly as if by in vitro fertilization from Zero 7's debut, Simple Things — for tryptophunk: languid grooves and brushed drums that act to release a hormone that forces all bodily functions to slow. The album continues in the tradition of wobbles and washes, sounds that unhurriedly swell to support a series of guest vocalists' whiskey-soaked and hickory-smoked crooning. Mozez, Tina Dico, Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Yvonne John Lewis all purr and vamp atop a bed of acoustic plucks, rolling round tones and gingerly scuffed skins. Steamy, glossy arrangements drift, flutter and billow, most compellingly on "Home," "Somersault," "Passing By" and "In Time." But "breezy" can be synonymous with out of sight, out of mind.

Neither haunted nor haunting, When It Falls is good for what it advertises: the times when a frivolous reprieve may fall into your lap. A mellifluous fling is sometimes nice, but seeking out such a drowsy endeavor seems more like an occasional indulgence than a commitment to contentment.

Zero 7 performs at Earthlink Live Sat., May 15. 8 p.m. $18.