The Young Lovers is an unchallenging listen, but nevertheless an excellent one that manages to unearth the best elements of downtempo music effortlessly.
Within electronic music, the never-ending discussion of what is credible and what is outdated continues unabated. Deep house, UK Funky (a sound-alike offshoot of UK Garage) and dub techno are huge again in 2009, only a handful of years after their last turn in the spotlight.
As the cycle of trends in electronic music revolves on an ever-decreasing orbit, and digital production becomes more and more commonplace, musical postmodernism makes like Ouroboros and begins to eat itself, spitting out one nonsensical sub-sub-sub genre after another. Overall it beggars the question: is the 'comeback' of a genre in electronic music even a valid concept anymore?
On the 'yes' side of that argument sits the self-titled album from The Young Lovers. On first listen you can't help but be struck by how out of time it seems, channeling the late 1990s with equal parts Bristol trip hop, UK instrumental hip hop in the style of Manchester's Grand Central Records and London's Ninja Tune, the Parisian jazzy fusions of St Germain, and Viennese style smoky, blunted beats.
Downtempo electronic music has generally been relegated to the no-man's-land of 'chillout' since the height of its popularity in the late 90s. Due to its innate listenability, and the immense crossover popularity of acts like Kruder & Dorfmeister and Zero 7, 'chillout' became the inescapable soundtrack of choice for trendy dinner parties and overpriced boutiques, and has in recent times been left in the dust as a genre of interest, oversaturated via umpteen club, restaurant, bar and boutique compilations that have reduced electronic downtempo to an indistinguishable, beige wall of sound.
The Young Lovers is -- it has to be said -- an unchallenging listen, but nevertheless an excellent one that manages to unearth the best elements of downtempo music effortlessly… so it comes as a surprise to learn that the man behind the restrained sophistication of The Young Lovers is Joshua "Hervé" Harvey, a man of many aliases, but most notably The Count of The Count and Sinden fame, known for their noisy, fidgety party-starters, hyper basslines and mash-up electro.
Throughout The Young Lovers, Harvey maintains a gentle groove with sampled double bass lines, filtered blues & jazz vocal samples, piano minor chords, hints of string and brass, and snatches of noirish, cinematic elements.
Opening track "You Make Me Dizzy" takes a leaf out of Mr Scruff's book with an uptempo groove built around jazzy samples, and jazz in its various permutations remains a defining influence for several other tracks. "Free" is mournful, melancholy and affecting, a lone sax evoking a smoky jazz den for the heartbroken, and a generous helping of Bossa jazz forms the exoskeleton of "Booty Bella", so much so that you can almost feel the sunshine and gentle sea breeze.
"Low Down Groove" is as low-down and groovy as the name suggests, but bafflingly it grinds to a silent halt halfway through for a 40-second intermission of instrumental hip hop, then abruptly turns back to its jazzy beginning to finish out the track. A tricky mid-song breakdown and reprise can be a really interesting enhancement to a track when it's executed well, but not when it makes you stop and wonder if the CD is damaged. The only other blip on an otherwise lovely album is the most uptempo track, "Love You Madly", which may very well send you mad(ly) with its irritatingly squawky horn samples and thudding Count/Sinden style house beat.
Harvey keeps the interest levels high with "Shake Off the Ghosts", a syncopated 2-step beat imbued with the spirit of old Southern bluesmen, the fat hip hop beats and rich, sampled strings of "How Lonely Does It Get", and "She's a Phoenix", which steps away from the crate-digging samples altogether, and acts as a freshening breeze, with broken beats and definite nujazz groove.
With Harvey reportedly back in the studio for more club-style devastation from Machines Don't Care and The Count & Sinden later this year, this is the perfect album for a little sunshine downtime, before you head back to the dancefloor, and may, hopefully, herald a revival of more considered, reflective sound of downtempo.