Various Artists

Comfort Zone, Vol. 4

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Since Comfort Zone got to a fourth volume, listeners can assume the series did something right in the first place. As a downbeat collection, this one slides very well between the ears. There is a kind of methodical, almost fanatical attention to detail, nuance, and dynamic that stands out from the crowd of ambient and chill-out comps that mostly just slap a few club hits and obscure tracks together. Here, the set opens with Spylab's "This Utopia," a series of shimmering (acoustic) guitar chords playing ostinato over a shaky drum loop that hovers in the background, until Sophie Bancroft's voice wordlessly slips underneath and between the instruments to become one of them and layers of textured reverb and a quietly insistent two-note bassline join the web of sounds, moving forward -- but to who knows where. Afterlife's own remix of "Breather 2000" features daylight sound effects and Rachel Lloyd's vocal, which offers itself to the wah-wah guitars and punched-up bassline bordering the track as a series of crisscrossing rhythms locate her in the center and bliss out the entire mix. And so it goes, through 14 tracks of some of the most compellingly relaxing music issued in a long time. Thievery Corporation's awesome "Shadows of Ourselves," with its reliance on Lonnie Liston Smith's piano grooves and Joe Sample's soprano lines, comes off better here than it does on the group's own album. And Moving Images' "Miles' Mood," with its Latin rhythm, glissando piano backdrop, chunky four-on-four rhythm, and guest trumpeter Herb Alpert winding a Miles Davis-styled melody through all of that airy percussion is just golden as late-night fare. This is as healthy as the first three volumes in this series and, indeed, if one were to fill up the changer with them, one could undoubtedly travel -- mentally at least -- into another universe and never leave the house again!

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