At some point in most movies, the plotline reaches a point where a lot of time needs to pass in a short time. The technique most movies apply is a scene with no talking and some sort of hypnotic music going on while quick scenes fade in and out. No one really pays attention to the scene, the music playing just makes their eyes close slightly, their jaw drop involuntarily, and they fall into a state of unawareness. Thievery Corporation's mix of electronica, acid jazz, dub, and reggae fit this stereotype of music perfectly. The hypnotic quality of the music exists in nearly all their songs, but still their music is some of the most original and interesting music put out in recent history.
Musicians on the album include:
Rob Garza- DJ and Production
Eric Hilton- DJ and Production
Pam Bricker- Vocals
Emiliana Torrini- Vocals
Lou Lou- Vocals
Patrick De Santos- Vocals
Steven Albert- Guitar, Electric Bass
Ustad Amir- Sitar
Frankie Addison- Horns
Kelvin Sampson- Horns
Harold Little- Horns
Roberto Berimbao- Electric Bass
Sonny Caberwal- Tabla
Thievery Corporation's third release, The Richest Man in Babylon, is an ambitious release from the Washington D.C. duo. As shown by the musicians on the album, the variety of music is incredible. Everything from straight up bleak electronica to Indian influenced reggae occurs on the album, making a well varied, enjoyable listen all the way through. Although many vocalists appear on the album, there are a good number of instrumentals on the album as well. One thing is for sure with the music, however. Every song features excellent backing keyboards, driving drumbeats, catchy baselines, and electronica samples abound. Every musician that appears on the album is excellent, and no one detracts from the overall sound of the current production. Ustad Amir stands out heavily for his superb sitar work on the album, making appearances on quite a few tracks. The production done by the two head members takes all this crazy genre blending going around and melds it into one hypnotic, trance-like sound. Throwing in drum beats that usually add a whole different genre into the mix along with the excellent voicing in the keyboards, everything lays back into their backbone.
The album opens with the immediately hypnotic and angelic Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes. A keyboard melody and high bassline open things off, having an extremely light and happy feel about them. Pam Bricker sings excellent vocals here. An echo effect transforms her voice into an angel from the future. Her voice is somewhat reminiscent of a lighter, less angry Regina Spektor. The keyboards remain the same as the intro for the most part, with more voices adding in progressively throughout the song. About halfway through the song, a rock based drum beat enters, mixed well enough that they do not dominate the song, still letting the vocals be the showcase of the song. Near the end, the keyboard and bass start being panned in different ears before finally fading out on the main riff while Pam sings the title of the track. While the song is 4 minutes of pretty much the same exact keyboard melody, the song serves the purpose of putting the listener in a hypnotic state, paving the way for the rest of the album.
From here, the album gets more and more experimental, immediately showcased with the aptly titled Facing East, as the song draws a heavy eastern influence into the music. A violin opens the song, playing an extremely Eastern melody. Tribal drums enter, creating an immediate groove for the violin to sync with. The drums become a bit heavier as the violin plays a bit sparser. This continues for a good minute until the drums, still tribal influenced, delve into more of a standard rock beat. Faint sitar fills in where the violin drops out. Tribal vocals also come in to build yet another melody on top of everything else. At this point, the true capacity of Thievery Corporation is unleashed. The ability to draw so many different instruments and voices together to create a blend of melodic structure never heard before is remarkable. This groove continues on for a while, at one point going without the drum point, a common stylistic change used by many electronica and trip-hop outfits. However, Thievery Corporation takes that to the next level by making each melody have a bit more rubato. The song closes out on an ahh'd note from the vocalist.
After the first two tracks, the album enters that point in the movie described earlier where everything sort of melds together. Nothing stands out, but one recalls hypnotic blends of dub and reggae, electronic rushes of keyboard sound, and vocalists singing in another language, allowing those not fluent in the language to be taken aback only by the tone of voice and warming quality of the music.
Finally, the hypnotic phase is broken by Liberation Front, a welcome change to the middle of the album. Liberation Front takes a more acid-jazzy feel, opening with high hat and a funky guitar line. This guitar line will remain one of the main instrumental themes throughout the song. A full drum beat enters and a keyboard accents at the beginning of each measure. A smooth, arpeggiating bassline enters. This song feels like a high school jazz band song, immediately setting the groove in the rhythm section before allowing the horns to bring in melodies of their own. The horns enter with a forte piano and then a two note fall. Saxophones enter with a more complicated melody of their own, grooving well with the rhythm section. This groove continues on for awhile before the saxophones change up their melody. All these different melodic ideas switch around, as the drums change their feel around a lot. A keyboard takes everything out creates a new melody. Slowly, the rest of the band begins to join in with this melody. After the entire band has blasted out on the simple melody, it just becomes another melody the ensemble continues to throw around, once again creating a whirlwind of melodies. The song closes out on a held saxophone note that fades out.
While the entire album is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, many songs are forgettable in their own right. The album creates one vague image once the listen is finished, one blend of all the various sounds the outfit manages to conjure. The two producers certainly have a large panorama of musical tastes, allowing them to create incredibly original music. Also, their production skills are top notch, never letting one instrument stick out too much, knowing that the music has to be one sound.
Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes
The Richest Man in Babylon