I think downtempo/chillout is the most versatile of all the genres of electronic music. For one thing, it’s not as fragmented as other forms of electronic, with dozens of microscopic subgenres. The songs can be acoustic, ambient, vocally-driven, pastoral, loungey, or all of the above in one song. The sheer volume of downtempo music can sometimes be overwhelming, and with a genre most often associated with relaxation and background music for coffee shops, it’s easy to let most of the music drift by you.
But there are times when downtempo can set the right mood, be the perfect accompaniment, and can be a sonically immersive experience. And it’s not all relegated to downing a sunset cocktail at Cafe Del Mar. For downtempo to be engrossing and evocative it needs to be more than a slow beat over languid keyboards. Producer Bitwise strives for that variety on his debut effort, Better Luck Next Time, and succeeds.
Time is really one of the better downtempo efforts I’ve heard in the last few years. I received the review copy two months ago and I found myself getting more and more into each song as the time went on, so I kept putting off this review.
The record opens up with “Candelabrum,” a pastiche of all things chillout, from airy guitars to languid beats, with disjointed rhythmic breaks and smooth bass. Bitwise skirts along the boundaries of trance with “Casting Shadows,” the one song on the collection that approaches dance floor status. But around the 4:10 mark, the song veers in another direction, with a jazz improv-sounding outro that fades away over the course of the remaining two minutes.
The variety continues with an acoustic singer-songwriter sounding song, “Common Sense.” Acoustic guitars return for “Quietly Leaving,” accented by a simple keyboard line. Vocals appear again in the short “Takes More,” featuring Erin Powers. This one is evocative of an Ibiza sunset. And it’s far too short. “The Royal We” has strains of Boards of Canada coursing through it, but it’s wholly original. The hooks is only three notes, but instantly memorable. “Distance” is a dissonant, disjointed effort, with not enough to hold on to. A rare throwaway track.
“Forgiveness” is the standout track. The beginning echoes Symbion Project’s “Soft Tempest.” The scattering beat shimmers along the pulsing synth lines. A light bass riff makes an appearance two-thirds of the way through. It’s repetitive, but never dull, sketching a definitive evening mood. The sub-five minute running time allows the song to breathe just enough, and to bow out when needed.
The production overall is superb. It’s a clean-sounding record with enough dynamic range to accommodate big beats and gentle vocals. Better Luck Next Time will certainly make my year-end ten best list.