Studio mainstays for well over a decade, Zero 7's Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker can wring an expert production from nearly any song, whether it's synth-based or band-based, instrumental or vocal, unadulterated pop or colored with some other genre shade thereof. Their fourth album as Zero 7 includes all of those approaches, so file it as another in a career of ever-evolving records that have moved them from chilled downbeat into dynamic alternative pop. A dedicated rhythm section appears on half the record, accentuating the feel that this is a band record -- albeit impeccably produced -- with an array of guests taking vocal turns.
Having lost longtime vocalist Sia to a solo career, Zero 7 conceived Yeah Ghost as a predominantly instrumental album, which almost certainly would have rendered it too "chillaxed" for its own good. But sense prevailed, and the duo roped in new vocalists who have shaken the music out of its torpor. Anglo-Zimbabwean singer Eska Mtungwazi, in particular, lights up her tracks with vibrant performances that eclipse everything else here – her foray into Basement Jaxx-ish disco, Mr McGee, is easily the bubbliest moment of the band's career.
For some reason, trip-hop and lyrical chill music is typically grounded by prominent female vocals. Portishead would not sound like Portishead without the unsettling shrill of Beth Gibbons. Lamb would not be Lamb without passionately soulful Lou Rhodes, and Broadcast wouldn’t be Broadcast without Trish Keenan’s surreal detachment. Sneaker Pimps utilized the vocals of Kelli Ali on their 1996 debut Becoming X, which cracked the charts in the US and UK thanks to the presence of the remixed-to-death “6 Underground” and “Spin Spin Sugar”.
Hey, Zero 7 still exist. Did you know that? I have to admit I did not. The words "Zero 7" probably hadn't popped into my head for nigh on five years, around the time I last worked in a record store. I remember the duo's music (specifically 2004's When It Falls) making a good fallback when someone complained that Franz Ferdinand was a little too abrasive, Zero 7 being the downtempo act with the gall to debut well after the fad had peaked.