Thievery Corporation :: Cosmic Game
[esl]   review from v:shal kanwar  

Cosmic Game, the latest edition of lounge extraordinaire from Thievery Corporation is probably their best in smooth grooves and masterful blending of sounds yet. The album is also unique as a departure in creative process from albums previous, carrying a number of big-name collaborations from a wide range of musical styles. It's a testament to Eric Hilton and Rob Garza's expansive current state of mind: they have harvested something uniquely Thievery from the creative minds of some very established artists.

As the heavy-hearted first track kicks into full gear Thievery-stylee, you find yourself relaxing into a surprisingly solid collaboration with The Flaming Lips. The basslines are simple, the beats bear the unmistakable feel that has catapulted the House of Thievery to international super stardom over the years. By the time the second track begins, there is no mistaking the brand name behind the music. Somehow the track itself is decidedly formulaic in its styling, and you begin to almost wonder if it's a remix of an older track. But then again this one is a collaboration with Sleepy Wonder, and the fluid vocal stylings of Gunjun, who has already made a name for herself by lending her sweet sound to the likes of Bally Sagoo, Rishi Rich, and a number of others.

The trademark Thievery groove is again in your ears as Cosmic Game gives way to the next track, Gunjun's all-Hindi remake of the Hindi classic "Satyam Shivam Sundaram:" at once hypnotic and sensual, sad and uplifting. The track is over way too soon the first time you hear it, and you'll find yourself mechanically skipping back to fall under the spell of her voice again and again. The bright sitar and rolling bass are perfectly matched with the beat on this song, making it an instant favourite. Gunjun's every vibrato and intonation seems effortless and fluid - the track is a true musical masterpiece.

Although the album seems to fall victim to a certain formulaic approach to making music - a good number of tracks represent only a slight departure from Thievery's older stuff in terms of how they feel on your ears - it's undeniable that they are good at what they do. Some of the beats, effects and vocals seem to have been recycled from previous Thievery favourites, and depending on who you are, this might be a delight or a disappointment. "Amerimacka" certainly falls prey to this, despite Notch's brilliant vocal range against a nicely dark and brooding vibe.

On "Soi Tapado," DC jazz vocalist Patrick de Santos's tightly delivered lyrics do absolute justice to his incredibly clear and smooth voice. It's hard not to sway to the richly layered percussion parts on this track as his voice perfectly complements the signature Thievery bassline. de Santos wrote and recorded this track in a single session after receiving the backing tracks, and then never heard the completed track until well after the album's release - a testament to Garza and Hilton's magic touch bringing out the best in seemingly any artist in their studio. Thievery's tradition of tipping their hats to the Latin and Portuguese jazz scene in their native Washington, DC has always been a cornerstone of their popularity, and their collaborations with Patrick de Santos have now proven greatly successful on two albums.

Easily the most infectious track on Cosmic Game is David Byrne's "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter." It is the best pairing of two distinguishably unique musical signatures of all the collaborations on this album. Byrne's brilliant vocals lead you along a complex foundation of percussion parts laid down by Brazilian percussion veteran Roberto Berimbau. This is one track on which Garza and Hilton definitely expanded their range into something much more bright and danceable - a stark contrast to some of the mellow darkness of the first few tracks on the album. Berimbau's crisp percussion sets the track into motion with an intensity that stands apart from the rest of the percussion on the album. As an aside, the remix of this track, currently available on 12", is simply the new hotness.

Some reverb over saturation diminishes the tight matching of basslines and beats on Sista Pat's "Wires and Watchtowers" as well as Gunjun's "The Supreme Illusion." But a final highlight is Thievery veteran vocalist Lou Lou putting on a star performance with "The Time We Lost Our Way," making Cosmic Game a worthy addition to any electronica/downbeat collection, and featuring Hilton and Garza as the brilliant producers that they are. One hopes that their next album (which is rumoured to already be in the works) is an ever greater departure from the long-standing Thievery formulas immortalized on Mirror Conspiracy and Richest Man in Babylon. The greatest moments on this album are definitely where they set aside their box of old tricks and made some studio magic.

ethnotechno rating: 3.5 out of 5
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  1. Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun) featuring the Flaming Lips
  2. Warning Shots featuring Sleepy Wonder and Gunjan (pick)
  3. The Revolution Solution featuring Perry Farrell
  4. The Cosmic Game
  5. Satyam Shivam Sundaram featuring Gunjan (pick)
  6. Amerimacka featuring Notch
  7. Ambicion Eterna (Eternal Ambition) featuring Verny Varela
  8. Pela Janela (Through the Window) featuring Gigi Rezende (pick)
  9. Sol Tapado (The Covered Sun) featuring Patrick de Santos (pick)
  10. The Heart's a Lonely Hunter featuring David Byrne (pick)
  11. Holographic Universe featuring Gunjan
  12. Doors of Perception featuring Gunjan
  13. Wires and Watchtowers featuring Sista Pat
  14. The Supreme Illusion featuring Gunjan
  15. The Time We Lost Out Way featuring Loulou
  16. A Gentle Dissolve