March 02, 2005

Thievery Corporation "The Cosmic Game"

Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the DC-based duo who comprise Thievery Corporation, know a few things about making mellow, exotic lounge-minded electronica. Not only have they been releasing music together for nearly a decade, but they’ve also been the masterminds behind Eighteenth Street Lounge, an exotic club that not only defines the word ‘cool,’ but also serves as the ideal setting for Thievery Corporation’s music—cool, suave, sexy and cosmopolitan. That they were initially courted by legendary British label 4AD and have made themselves household names (in hip, club-loving houses, that is) is no surprise. The relative success of their previous album, The Richest Man in Babylon wasn’t much of a surprise, either.

One might wonder, then, what Garza and Hilton should do next. As they’ve never drastically changed their style, they do run the risk of making a record that simply carries on their formula, and that is exactly what they’ve done. That’s not meant to dismiss their abilities, and it’s certainly not meant to dismiss The Cosmic Game, because it’s easily the best Thievery Corporation record to date. Their groove is still international—mixing Afro-Cuban, Latin and European rhythms together quite nicely, and they still do a good job of making a “one world”-minded record out of so many styles, as they never allow themselves to become indebted to one particular genre. Songs like “The Time We Lost Our Way” and “Shiva” will take you to the Orient and “Ambicion Eterna” and “Amerimacka” will bring you right back, without ever losing the sensual beat or negating the Thievery Corporation’s vast arsenal of singers.

The Cosmic Game is enhanced by the use of several vocalists. Some of the singers (like Notch and Loulou) are regulars from past Thievery Corporation records, but some of the names are much more familiar. The opening song, “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)” features a guest performance from The Flaming Lips. It takes the stoned out moments of The Soft Parade into a new direction; on first listen, Wayne Coyne’s vocals don’t seem to fit into the Thievery Corporation’s groove, and the match-up seems a bit awkward. Who isn’t awkward with the duo’s groove, though, is Jane’s Addiction mastermind Perry Farrell who, on “Revolution Solution,” sounds unusually sedate in front of such a deep, tribal beat. The same can be said of David Byrne, who appears on “The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter,” happily taking the lead on the gorgeous samba beat that’s not unlike his classic “(Nothing But) Flowers.”

The Cosmic Game finds Thievery Corporation at the top of their game. Garza and Hilton continue to make sophisticated music for a smart generation, and if their aim is to chill out the world, then that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished; they’ve made a record which embodies everything that’s good about music that’s easily enjoyed by the most—and least—musically sophisticated listener.

--Joseph Kyle

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