Zero 7: The Garden

Zero 7
The Garden

The last refuge of burnt-out nightlife pleasure-seekers, downtempo electronica isn't exactly known for its sense of humor. After all, keeping up an appearance of stylish disinterest isn't easy when your mouth's hanging open mid-LOL. So it's refreshing to hear a wisp of wit blow through the final track on the latest from these U.K.-based genre heavyweights—especially since the goof suggests that the folks in Zero 7 are well aware of their reputation for catalog cool. "Now it's a good time for a tasty glass of wine," vocalist Sia Furler sings over a twinkly soul-jazz shuffle in "Waiting to Die." "Let's not burden our minds with carbon dioxide."

Furler's self-satirizing wisecrack isn't the only break from downtempo convention on The Garden. Though the disc contains the requisite levels of creamy electric piano and head-nodding bass, it's also full of muted horn parts and warm acoustic guitars that evoke lovely memories of old records by English folkies like Nick Drake and John Marty—guys more comfortable in the school library than the dance club. The handful of cuts featuring vocals by José González, the blog-celebrated Swedish-Argentine crooner, are the album's most distinctive. (González fans will want to fast-forward to the sleek electro-folk remake of "Crosses," a cut from the singer's recent Veneer.)

Alas, González isn't much of a funnyman; his idea of comedy is probably stringing his guitar upside down. For more laughs, check "This Fine Social Scene," another Furler-sung gem in which she gently ribs Zero 7's upmarket wine-bar cohort. Don't worry—they can take it.

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