Do you ever crave a certain sound? In the interim between the releases of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing and The Private Press, I found myself searching for an album of good, solid, instrumental, hip-hop beats. The expectations weren't for a breakthrough, just something that pushed similar buttons. For a time, Italian duo the Dining Rooms satisfied the urge with their second album, Numero Deux. It wasn't great, but it did what it had to. It provided a fix.
Via Tania, AKA Tania May-Bowers, has nothing to do, in sound, with either Shadow or the Dining Rooms. But within downtempo the genre her first full-length fits best Under a Different Sky is a fix record. You've probably heard it all before in one form or another, but what she delivers is something that will fit nicely when played alongside Esthero, Hefner, and vintage Tricky or Massive Attack.
After relocating to Chicago from Australia, Bowers hooked up with some local musicians including members of Tortoise and began crafting a sound that's carried over from her EP debut, Dream Of..., to her latest. Her songs are steeped in mood and texture. Her dreamy vocals are interlaced with sleepy beats, stretched-out keyboard and synth sounds, layers of guitars and, at times, dubby feedback.
The album's first track, "I Dream Again," produced by Scott Herren as Prefuse-73 (who helms two of the album's 10 songs) is closer, in color, to Herren's warmer work under the moniker Savath + Savalas. Skittering drums flirt with layers of melodic, electronically treated guitars and a quietly pulsating tonal wash. The vocals come in spare, simply evocative, lyrical phrasing:
"I dream of you/ It's kinder when it's true/ You wait to decide/ How long to give/ Whatever comes this way/ To you again..."
The next song, "Boltanski," is rooted in dubby sounds reminiscent of Protection-era Massive Attack. Rather than relying completely upon digital production, an aesthetic choice for most recent downtempo, the songs on Under a Different Sky are composed, largely, with old-fashioned analog instrumentation. There's a slowed-down, spaced-out quality to the tracks, and hearing real guitars, piano, and drums infuses the album with a welcome organic feel.
Under a Different Sky is not as interesting as Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain, nor the older Massive Attack it, at times, emulates. But it satisfies the desire for a good, quiet, moody record saturated with strong, sultry vocals and darkly meandering instrumentals.
If Tricky's former muse, Martina Topley Bird, made a Mazzy Star record, it would sound like Under a Different Sky. And if those reference points appeal to you, as they did to me, you'll probably like Via Tania