Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have incomparable taste. Just look at the duo, smartly turned out in trademark dark, sleek suits. But their sense of aesthetic runs much deeper than just appearance — grab one of their albums and listen to the mind-numbing coolness that drowns the room when the needle drops. They are the Iron Chefs of chill. They are the Armani’s of DJ taste and style. Thievery Corporation are all things cool and hip, and they want you to know about it — by serving up some of the best downbeat/chill discs ever recorded.
In the mid-’90s, even before their contribution to the popular DJ Kicks series hit the shelves, DJs and music fans alike were raving about the duo from D.C. Even with limited pressing and release, the Thievery sound was so tasty that when they went to Austria to see seminal DJ duo Kruder and Dorfmeister, K and D were already spinning Thievery Corp. tunes. By the time 2000’s Mirror Conspiracy was released, Thievery Corporation were the hottest down-tempo/ambient groove act going. Their sublime blend of obscure easy listening, bossa nova, jazz and dub, deliciously tweaked into booty-shaking beats, has been a winning combination for nearly a decade. And happily, for the throngs of Thievery fans, nothing has changed with their release of The Outernational Sound; Thievery is still turning out great albums to mix a cocktail and bob your head to.
Thievery Corporation dance fluidly between two worlds; the world of record-grabbing DJs, and the other, as bonafide record producers. An album by Thievery falls into one of those categories — The Outernational Sound is in the latter. This is the music you’d hear if you were to spend a day (or night, more likely) just hanging with the Thievery Boys, watching them rifle through their musical library with great intensity. Outernational flows seamlessly from jazz-infused to Eastern music, hops perfectly into breakbeat, and then swims languidly into dub. There is no other talent today that can bring together such vastly different worlds of music and make it work. Work so well, in fact, that you forget about borders, you forget about genres. All you feel is the vibe created when two geniuses get their hands on a crate of wax and spin it into magic.
The first upright bass strums of David Snell’s “International Flight” bring an instant excitement to the air. It’s almost as if you just know this is going to be an excellent Thievery Corp. album from those very first few notes on the bass. Finessing their way from the opening jazziness of “International Flight”, through the smooth-jazz vocal track of Ya Ma Lee’s “Gimmicks”, and dropping in on the drum and bass “Thunderball”, Thievery don’t miss a beat. Thievery’s own compositions, “Lagos Communique” and “The Richest Man in Babylon”, dot the set with their own personal touch, sure not to let us forget that they are more than just two guys throwing down on the decks — they are composers as well. Neither track is a particular standout, but both meld nicely with the chilled groove that floats through the album. The harmonized horn section and Bobby Womack-like vocals make Breakstra’s “Cramp Your Style” a highlight of The Outernational Sound. Another strong track, the ’60s organ-laced “Big Boss Man”, shimmies and shakes like a Rowan and Martin Go-Go dancer. And maybe that is one of Thievery Corp.’s secrets — they seem to span not only borders, but time as well. They conjure up a mysterious intangible feeling of an era, not just a sound. Lounges full of men in fitted suits and women in dresses; cocktails and cigarettes; smoky jazz clubs and buzzing streetlights, all cloaked in the fuzzy grain of the old black-and-white television set your parents used to have. Thievery Corporation create visuals of another time and place, through their unique touch with music most have never known, let alone forgotten about. Anyone can spin retro, but Thievery Corporation seem to have the uncanny ability to capture the essence of a time past.
There are no “wow” tracks on this CD — no head-turners that make conversation stop and drinks rattle. Rather, The Outernational Sound consists of a lot of decent tracks that combine, through the adept Thievery Corporation touch, into another most pleasing chill-out experience. Until D.C.’s finest serve up their next batch of originals, The Outernational Sound should keep Thievery fans quite satisfied.