Review Summary: Thievery Corporation manufactures an ethereal but slightly disappointing album for the masses.
For sixteen years, Eric Hilton and Rob Garza have combined a jazzy groove with the smoothest beats to elevate Thievery Corporation above their electronic contemporaries. Known for their crafting of meticulously detailed soundscapes and night life atmospheres, the band has established itself as a pioneer in various corners of the electronic genre. Their sophomore effort The Mirror Conspiracy
really brought them into public light, featuring a smooth, jam-session brand of trip-hop that provided the ultimate companion to any cocktail party or evening club lounging. The hit ‘Lebanese Blonde’ went on to become one of the band’s most renowned songs, even scoring a place on 2005’s indie-laced Garden State
soundtrack. Over the years, they proved to be anything but an anomaly, delivering album after album of rich, texturally diverse electronic music - often with a slight twist such as hip-hop or middle-eastern influences. Now they find themselves releasing their eight studio album since their inception, blending their signature brand of electronica with entrancing beats and minimalist rap.
Culture of Fear
might be just what you would expect from a band that is almost two decades into a storied and illustrious career. They don’t stray too far from the beaten path, focusing more on expanding and improving their formula than innovating it. Garza and Hilton again strive for an amicable, almost passive sound that lends itself to casual and/or social listening. That isn’t to say that the atmospheres aren’t as developed as they should be, because a focused assessment proves to reward with layers of complex production - something we have all come to expect from Thievery Corporation. However, Culture of Fear
seems like an exercise in relativity. That is, every song is dependent upon its frame of reference – the grand, far vaster scope of the work as a whole. There are no ‘Lebanese Blonde’ caliber tracks that will just floor you immediately, and every song simply sounds better in the context of the album. In no way does this have
to be a weakness, as history has proven that many of the greatest albums ever recorded are a product of dynamic flow. However, that approach usually works better when there are more diamonds than rough – and somewhat fortunately, somewhat unfortunately for Thievery Corporation, their latest LP contains neither. While there are no album-defining tracks, there are also no duds…which upon evaluating the record as a whole, is at least one trace of optimism that nobody can take away from Culture of Fear
While Garza and Hilton seem content to trod along for the most part, they do so with every bit of grace and style that Thievery Corporation’s back catalogue suggests they would. As soon as Culture of Fear
opens with ‘Web of Deception’, the listener is automatically transported to an atmosphere composed of a peaceful aura and a sense of ultimate relaxation. With heavy synths, distantly echoing vocals, and funk grooves, you essentially have no choice but to submit to the aural journey that has been laid out before you. The title track proves to be a successful fusion of hip hop and ethereal electronica, while latter tracks such as the spacey ‘Stargazer’ and the swirling ‘Tower Seven’ keep the album continuously rooted in that uniformly tranquil air. Redundancy also never really becomes a problem here, as each track is distinguishable enough to warrant praise as being unique. Even though all the songs are equally as relaxing, they all set the mood in slightly different ways - and that prevents Culture of Fear
from ever growing wearisome. The second-to-last track, ‘Overstand’, is perhaps one of the record’s exemplary instances of that, introducing a tropical/reggae vibe that illustrates Thievery Corporation’s willingness to still take the occasional calculated risk.
All in all, though, Culture of Fear
is an album that Thievery Corporation released to please the masses. It is thorough, well-produced, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. The style centers around the band’s classic sound, offering up a lot of what fans would expect, but almost nothing outside of their regular toolbox. Like prior works, it will fit in perfectly on your next trip to the club or your midnight stroll down main street. However, it lacks much of anything memorable, serving best as background music for such occasions. Considering the type of music they make, that might not be the worst thing – but in its somewhat forced nature it loses the effortless feel of prior albums that lent Thievery Corporation’s music an element of novelty and transcendence. For as smoothly as this album goes down, it all feels kind of boxed in – which makes for nothing more than another solid
release from the dynamic duo.