With the release of Morcheeba’s new CD and the upcoming Portishead release, 2008 is shaping up to be a banner year for trip hop, the electronica subgenre of thick slow beats, jazzy samples, and dark ambiance. The genre’s definition tends to suggest a restricted sound, but many trip hop bands have expanded their sound, some bleeding into downtempo, while other moving towards a straight hip hop sound. Contrary to Portishead’s move into a fractured, industrial sound, Morcheeba takes a stroll into acoustic-driven ballads, and easy going beats, perfect for a coffee shop, but maintaining enough of an edge to make you perk your ears up and listen.
Having parted ways with their regular vocalist Skye Edwards in 2003, the band has been bringing in other vocalists to work on refining their sound and taking into new directions.
Dive Deep is a journey through various musical genres, all anchored by trip hop aesthetic. The CD starts with a lilting catchy melody, “Enjoy The Ride”. “Run Baby Run” will have you looking to make sure you didn’t accidentally download a Gordon Lightfoot song. The 70’s songwriter-feeling of the track is the last thing you would expect on a trip hop CD. Two tracks later, you get “One Love Karma”, with Korean-born American rapper Calm Cool Pete, closing the gap with hip hop. Variety is in abundance.
It takes till Track 8, “Blue Chair”, for the classic trip-hop sound to appear. Anchored by veteran singer/songwriter Judy Tzuke, the song drives through quasi-pastoral melodies with a looping beat. It’s an atmospheric treat and a nice counterpoint to the earlier songs. “The Ledge Beyond the Edge” is another exercise in downtempo, a soothing ride through an electronic panorama.
Two of the Thomas Dybdall tracks really throw a monkey wrench into the collection. The jarring vocals don’t blend well with the other songs. Sure the ability of a band to rise above their genre and expand is always an admirable move, but only if it works. In the case of “Riverbed” and “Sleep on it Tonight”, it doesn’t. It’s not taking anything from Dybdall, a Norwegian singer-songwriter, it’s just that Morcheeba might not be the best showcase for his abilities.
It’s tough to give this CD a full recommendation. It’s uneven in pacing and uneven in song quality. There are a some of the better songs Morcheeba has ever done, and some of their weakest. I think it’s an interesting effort in looking at how the band has developed and their insistence on expanding outside the confines of genre labels. For longtime fans of Morcheeba, I think the feedback will be positive, but for casual fans, it might be best to start with the band’s catalogue before moving into Dive Deep.