Various Artists: Cosmic Funk

Various Artists
Cosmic Funk

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term “mood music?” Sex, right? “Mood music” is, in fact, “in the mood music”. It’s supposed to make you feel horny, randy, insatiable, boot-knockalicious — whatever you want to call it. It could describe any kind of music that puts you in any kind of mood, but marketers grasped long ago that sex sells, and if music can put you in the mood, it can put record label balance sheets in the black.

So what should we make of the “lifestyle music” being shilled by resurrected Palm Pictures imprint Quango? Forget for a second that there’s a popular condom brand called Lifestyles, because even though the latest series of Quango compilations will make you want to restock your medicine cabinet, it’s not necessarily “mood music”. Foreplay music? Yes. Dinner and a bottle of wine music? Certainly. Shopping for underwear music? Perhaps. But sex music? Probably not, unless you’re endowed with an inhuman amount of restraint — and if you’re that lucky, music doesn’t matter.

Cosmic Funk has its moments of pure mood, but most of the time it’s just perfect for mellow dancing. Not dancing that starts in the hips and ends with your hands flailing above your head, but dancing that starts in the shoulders and will let you keep one hand on your martini while carrying on a conversation. It’s the background music that’s automatically triggered when you imagine people who wear only clothes by Italian designers and eat chilled tropical fruit on weekdays. And now, thanks to Quango, you too can be that cool — fruit and clothes sold separately.

The musical lifestyle represented on Cosmic Funk is the “West London Sound”, an amalgamation of influences and instruments from at least four continents and numerous musical styles that reflects the multicultural makeup of the community that gives the style its name. Most of the DJs hail from West London as well, and are frequent collaborators with each other. It’s truly a musical community, and you can tell when you’re listening that, besides being influenced by countless cultural sources, they’re also influenced by each other.

The easybeat vibe, with its grab bag of brass, woodwinds, nonstandard strings (electric guitar, sitar), shuffling percussion and dub reverb, is closer to the roots of its jazz influences (Brazilian, fusion, acid) than any funk, cosmic or otherwise. It’s something that’ll sound fresh to anyone not down with rare groove of a world flavor, and a welcome compilation to fans of Bristol collective Up Bustle & Out, Washington D.C.’s Thievery Corporation, or even the more stoned mixes from Kruder & Dorfmeister.

Despite its classic jazz roots and dance music predecessors, Cosmic Funk still manages to go in its own direction, effortlessly segueing from the irie opening of Migs & Jelly’s “Enter the Soul” into the trashy Latin groove of the Funky Lowlives’ “Latazz”, and then into a silky marriage of sitar and dub on Neon Fusion’s “The Future Ain’t the Same as It Used 2B” and the Funky Lowlives’ “Notabossa”. It goes back and forth from one cultural influence to another like that for most of the compilation, reaching its high point in the ultra-smooth “Reachin’ 4 Da Farside (Miss Negra Remix)”, a house/fusion/Latin jazz blowout that sounds like St. Germain after a month on the beach in the Virgin Islands. It’s enough to make you want to set down that martini for a minute and do more than just have a conversation with your date.

But it could just as easily make you want to buy a sweater the next time you’re in the Gap. Or it might make you go for the double latte rather than the single the next time you’re at Starbucks. That’s what Quango means by “lifestyle music”: it’s great to have music that puts you in the mood, but even the luckiest of the lucky (or paid professionals, but that’s another lifestyle altogether) only get to have sex part of the time. If we can have a smooth, uptempo and non-evasive soundtrack to get us through all the other times, then it may as well be as entertaining as Cosmic Funk.