Programmed To Love (2001) by the aptly named Bent appeared at a time when acts under the 'chillout' banner were attracting a lot of mainstream attention in the UK, and the years have been much kinder to it than some of the other popular chillout releases from that period.

artist:
Bent

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Lounge, downtempo pop, chilled house, ambient pop

decades active:
2000's

essential releases:

  • Programmed To Love (2001, Sport/Ministry Of Sound)
  • The Everlasting Blink (2003, Sport/Ministry Of Sound)

Reviewed by Mike G

While songs with lyrics rarely count as "pure" ambient music in my book - they're too literal for one thing - at least one song-orientated album released in 2001 achieved everything good ambient pop is capable of doing: engaging the mind, relaxing the body, and taking you off well-trodden paths to somewhere more subtle and suggestive.

That album is Programmed To Love (2001) by the aptly named Bent aka Simon Mills and Neil Tolliday. It appeared at a time when acts under the "chillout" banner were attracting a lot of mainstream attention in the UK and the years have been much kinder to it than some of the other popular chillout releases from that period. Its finely judged balance of serious and silly is aging beautifully while, for example, the jolly Englishness and comedic sampling of Lemon Jelly  now sounds rather gimmicky and annoying.

Programmed To Love is a brilliant collection of twisted downtempo tunes assembled from elements of lounge, hip hop, ambient, house music and the lush string sounds of classic easy-listening records. Bent do things that on paper sound daft but on record end up sounding sublimely daft, like "Exercise One" which samples a deadly serious sound technician giving you a rundown of his much-loved equipment. Highpoints among the album's more serious tracks include the achingly lovely single "Swollen" and the closing track "Always" which samples a performance of Ernesto Lecuona's 1940's standard "Always In My Heart" and drops it into a slow, warm house groove with lovely sighing strings.

Bent's fantastic second album The Everlasting Blink (2003) is the equal of its predecessor, every bit as cheerful, batty and brilliant. Once again the duo's genius is in sampling unlikely sources and choosing to be more than simply clever with them. What they plunder they take several steps further than most of their peers, turning out rich full-blooded songs and weirdly emotional instrumentals. "Magic Love" is a slow, sweet and warm Balearic house tune that samples 70's soft popsters Captain & Tennille. Other highlights include the fairytale-like opener "King Wisp" complete with strings, flute and harp, plus the African chants and bleepy synth stabs that overlay a primitive 60's rock jam on "Exercise Three". Guest vocalist Jon Marsh from The Beloved also appears, singing the lo-fi shuffle "Beautiful Otherness" in his trademark crisp, smooth baritone.

Subsequent albums have been less-sample based and none have captured the magic of the first two. If you want to get Bent, these are the albums to own.

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