With their debut full length album, 2001’s Simple Things, British downtempo production duo Zero 7 drew immediate comparisons to French duo Air. These comparisons weren’t wrong, but they weren’t entirely correct either. Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker were following the recipe laid out by Air and their 1998 album Moon Safari, but they were doing their own thing too. They set about to improve the organic and atmospheric soundscape by adding better ingredients. Henry and Sam went above and beyond on their debut album by bringing in some super talented but underrated musicians to make appearances. Ever heard of Sia Furler? Or just Sia? Well, she pretty much launched her international stardom from this album in 2001, back when she still showed her face in public.
Other talented voices brought into the studio include British singer Sophie Barker, Curtis Mayfield’s pal and Chicago jazz crooner Terry Collier, and British soul man Mozez. These voices, together with the smart production, create an album that is infinitely enjoyable upon first listen, and maybe the fiftieth some 16 years later.
The album starts strong and bounces back and forth between guest singers and instrumental tracks. Sometimes it feels like four separate EPs shuffled together like a deck of cards. Sequencing of the tracks feels almost random, but it works, everyone gets their time to shine. Zero 7 toured extensively in 2001 and 2002 in support of the album. And it wasn’t just two DJs and some singers. All instruments were well represented with upwards of 11 band members at certain points of a show.
If you enjoy jazzy, ambient, downtempo, electro-pop . . . then this album is for you. If you don’t enjoy those things, I bet you haven’t tried in a while, or you’ve never tried this before, and Simple Things is ready for you to take a test drive. 16 years after it’s initial release, Simple Things gets 4 out of 5 stars and should be enjoyed by almost anyone. If you like it once, you’ll listen to it 100 times.