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Music Review: Blank & Jones – Relax: Edition Four

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Blank & Jones continue their double life with the release of the latest installment to their original chillout series, Relax 4. By day (as in sunny hours, not their "day job") they craft hazy, lazy downtempo beach music, such as is presented here. By night, they bring their brand of high-energy electronic music to the clubs, drawing equal inspiration from the trance scene, electro movement, and more beat-oriented tracks from early techno days. The Relax series has morphed a bit over time. When it started, it was a mostly seamless collection of chilled out original tracks and remixes meant to accompany your nap on the beach. Now, the series is presented as a day time/night time set.

Disc One is subtitled "Sun" and is the more laid back of the two. Stylistically, this disc finds itself somewhere in between a very slow, Balearic chill sound and something that occasionally approaches down-tempo. It's one of their most placid offerings, to be sure, but also is a bit out of genre. "Face a la Mer" starts things off, and is a breezy, flamenco guitar-led instrumental number. A reworking of Laid Back's "Happy Dreamer" follows, and already brings the pulse of the set down a notch. And by the time we get to "Nuits Blanches" – which harkens back to the first track in terms of style – things seem to have stalled out a bit into… I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: easy listening.

The emphasis on this Margaritaville-hammock-style of chillout seems to be taking them to the edge of what would actually be considered "chillout," as opposed to just "really slow." And its this emphasis on the first disc that finds the group faltering. Where before there had been generous doses of this mixed in with some other ambient trance elements, or after-hours lounge, now it has come to the fore as the overriding theme.

Things pick up a bit with their first effort at a title track for the series, "Relax (Your Mind)," which is a pleasant vocal number that brings up the tempo just enough. This carries nicely into "Chilled Cream," delivering more of a definite laid-back groove. "Try Again" features Keane and starts off as a very nice slow vocal cut, before injecting a rhythmic break during the mid-point. This second triptych of seconds feels more like the heart and soul of this first disc, and easily trumps the first set of songs.

The second half of the disc finds itself oscillating between these two styles, with the two vocal tracks featuring Vanessa Daou ("Heart of Wax" and "Consequences") as well as "Up 2 You" being definite highlights. The more "elevator" tracks certainly aren't bad, especially when considered individually, but do feel out of place given the level of prominence that they have throughout the disc. The fact that the set is unmixed only serves to highlight these contrasting styles all the more.

Disc Two brings us to the "Moon" phase, and finds us more at an intersection between club music and an after-hours come down. Starting off with the infectious Poolside House Mix of "Where You Belong," we're introduced to a more dance-oriented groove. The style of this disc takes its cue from House music as interpreted through various filters. For the first track, it's with a light trance filter. For both "Listen To My Heartbeat" featuring Laid Back and "Lazy Life," there's a slight reggae bounce thrown in to nice and subtle effect.

The ethereal float above "Butterfisch" gives the underlying groove an excellent counterbalance, and it's probably the nicest track of this half. But it's also at this point that you begin to wonder why the tracks aren't mixed together. This second disc, particularly, has an excellent flow with the tracks, and solid material to boot. It feels like a greatly missed opportunity.

"El Verano" delivers a solid disco-meets-house groove, and makes you wonder if the duo will take some of these styles further with future releases. Because when the needle drops on the Boutique Mix of "Relax (Your Mind)," the feeling of how neutered the first disc sounds comes rushing back. Not that they haven't done some really quality chillout stuff in the past (as volume one in the Relaxseries clearly shows), but here we are presented with two sides of their sound. The sound on this second disc is done particularly well, and fully upstages the more lackluster effort of the first half.

Relax: Edition Four ends up being a disappointing mixed bag. Although the second disc delivers a really solid collection of more club-oriented tracks, it falls short as everything is left unmixed. And despite some highlights, the first disc falters on both counts. In all, it's a weak entry to the series, but not so much so that you can't help but root for a better realized next volume.

 

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