Minus 8: Slow Motion

[23 June 2009]

By Estella Hung

Robert Jan “Minus 8” Meyer never quite manages to send his listeners into a stately reverie, for he has a penchant for placing his immaculate downtempo soundscapes near a spark plug of kinked-up beats. And so it is with his seventh album, Slow Motion, his first LP in almost five years. The Swiss DJ/Producer spent much of that time providing sonorous backdrops to short films, trailers, and even Apple’s PowerBook campaign, as well as producing compilations.

But while albums past are mostly triumphs in nu-jazz doused in outer-orbit atmospherics—making it unfortunate that they, like productions of similar stripe of the Compost Records or K7! variety, tend to find a primary audience in undiscerning barflies—Slow Motion is equal parts ambient wallpaper and club shindig plucked straight from Café del Mar and Hed Kandi compilations, respectively. It’s as if Minus 8 has crafted a soundtrack for a 24-hour window into a vacationer’s blissful getaway, which has the subject predictably meditating beachside with cocktail in hand (or whatever else goes on at Club Med), followed by more cocktails at a moonlit retro jamboree. Even the jamboree is on a slow-burn.

The “daytime” chapter of the album includes tracks “Winter Tales”, “Soverato 09”, and “Let It Go” that present a watercolour of sprayed-on strings, diaphanous floating piano progressions, and gentle guitar hooks. A forlorn sax adds to the general maudlin lethargy of the canvas.

Vocals feature stronger here than in any other Minus 8 album, much of it due to the versatile Hungarian chanteuse Virag. Her languorous delivery and nymph-like, melts-like-cocoa timbre makes you forgive the cheesy things she sings about: self-affirmation and self-reflection being a hazard of many ‘chill out’ productions. “Everybody’s gotta learn sometimes / Change your heart, it will astound you”, she croons on “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes”. Really? “We Are Waiting” propels more naff the listener’s way, for (again, exempting Virag’s vocals) it sounds like an undisguised keyboard demo which would slot comfortably in the repertoire of a wedding or gentleman’s club band. We even hear a Robert Miles-type thunderclap on “Let It Go”. Virag is Minus 8’s lucky strike as she prevents the album’s first half from becoming an indiscriminate pool of airbrushed sound.

Slow Motion eventually gears up a notch with the Ibiza-style house of “Enigma of a Summer Afternoon”, the funk disco of “Make Your Day”, and the broken beat of “Wonderland”. From this variety springs a modicum of memorability. Pop-out tunes include “Juy”‘s Jem-style vocal tapestries and exotic instrumentals, “Wonderland” for its syncopated rhythm and meandering staccato keyboard bridge, and “Hustler” for its humorous spoken-word deep groove. The album then oddly dissolves into the shadows with a moody take on Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedia”.

Unlike Minus 8’s 2002 double-album Minuit, whose rhythmic contortions offered a more challenging listen, Slow Motion is mostly headspace filler for barflies and the pathological resort habitue. Though there is nothing wrong with a soundtrack for escapism—anything beyond recorded sounds of lapping waves and jungle life is welcome—one does hope that Slow Motion is Minus 8’s own momentary escape from what he does best.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/minus-8-slow-motion/