Their second album Vertigo (1999) is the album that cemented the duo's reputation, applying slick house production aesthetics over a broad canvas of instrumentals, vocal and part-vocal tracks. The album's organic and always rhythmic sound encompasses landscaped synths, funky basslines and guitar, hip hop breaks and scratching, percussive bongo grooves and dreamy ambient tunes.
country of origin:
Lounge, trip hop, funk, house, soul
90's - 10's
essential chillout releases:
- Vertigo (1999, Jive Electro)
- Goodbye Country Hello Nightclub (2001, Jive Electro)
Reviewed by Mike G
Despite mountains of dodgy chillout compilations, it should never be forgotten that during "chillout" music's commercial apogee in the UK and Europe in the early to mid-2000's some very fine albums were released. With roots deep in US house music and Jamaican dub, Groove Armada (DJ/composers Andy Cato and Tom Findlay) might have seemed easy targets when the inevitable backlash came, given the tendency of house audiences to put fashion and style ahead of substance. Listening to Groove Armada's second and third albums now, however, is to hear nothing less than two classic works of modern downtempo lounge.
Their second release Vertigo (1999) is the album that cemented the duo's reputation, applying slick house production aesthetics over a broad canvas of instrumentals, vocal and part-vocal tracks. The album's organic and always rhythmic sound encompasses landscaped synths, funky basslines and guitar, hip hop breaks and scratching, percussive bongo grooves and dreamy ambient tunes. It's a sample-heavy album, and some of those samples are gleefully obscure. Only fans of 1940's and 50's jazz/pop, for example, would spot the snatches of crooner Dick Haymes on the wonderfully soaring, minimalist midtempo funk of "Inside My Mind". Other borrowings are much more recent; despite the live funk guitar, the sublimely layered instrumental "Chicago" would be a very different thing where it not for a couple of uncredited samples (ahem) from a Chemical Brothers track.
The pair's live trumpet/trombone playing can be stunningly pretty. Check its sweet, tones on the shimmering instrumental "Dusk You And I" and the gorgeous Balearic trip-hop of the pair's most famous song "At The River". Vertigo has a few aberrations, most obviously the gimmicky club house hit "I See You Baby" which, despite a sassy rap from guest Grandma Funk, is totally devoid of a bassline and thus any funk whatsoever. "At The River" and "Inside My Mind" excepted, it's the instrumental pieces that provide the albums heart and soul.
Despite its title and a few extra 4/4 house tracks, Goodbye Country Hello Nightclub (2001) offers plenty of slow-to-midtempo lounging. While this time there's a far bigger ratio of live musicians to samples, Cato and Findlay lend the same inspired production creativity and studio tricks to another broad range of songs and instrumentals. "Little By Little" starts as a slow, cinematic breakbeat tune with strings and piano before brilliantly segueing into a warm folksy song by guest Richie Havens. Gorgeous strings elevate the slow liquid funk of "Lazy Moon" and "Edge Hill", two of Groove Armada's finest instrumentals. The Top 40 vocal hits "Superstylin" and "My Friend" flirt with Caribbean influences and Cream-style rock respectively were two of the more credible songs floating around on FM radio at the time.
And that was end of chillout for Groove Armada. After Goodbye Country the band's sound soon morphed into a more upfront house-rock-funk hybrid, possibly a reflection of the duo's evolution into a full live band playing to large audiences. Or possibly because they were just bored and craved a creative change. Whatever the reason, in the form of Vertigo and Goodbye Country Hello Nightclub they have kindly left us with two bonafide chillout classics.