Lilacs & Champagne

Danish & Blue

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Lilacs & Champagne's self-titled debut might have been a little too indebted to the greats of instrumental hip-hop, but it was clear that Alex Hall and Emil Amos were learning how to put their own stamp on a style that has had so many distinctive forerunners. With Danish & Blue, they deliver songs that are at once more streamlined and more expansive. As the title implies, this time their sampling sources included music from the soundtracks to B-movies and X-rated Scandinavian movies. While things never get too explicit, many of the songs are equally ghostly and lurid, like "Refractory Period," which combines silky-smooth guitars with samples of a woman sobbing; meanwhile, the title track sings the praises of pot and waterbeds while pianos ripple and blunted beats descend. Danish & Blue could have easily been wild and wacky, but Lilacs & Champagne turn this into some of their most sophisticated music. Despite its silly name, "Hamburgers & Tangerines" is smoky and seductive as it shifts between lush strings and spiraling guitar solos. The vibe throughout still recalls Dilla and DJ Shadow, as well as veteran sample-hounds Tipsy on some of the more mischievous tracks, like the low-slung cool of "Police Story" or the similarly gritty "Honest Man." As admirable as it is that Hall and Amos don't completely give into the kitsch that their source material implies, Danish & Blue sometimes threatens to fade into exquisitely tasteful mood music. Of course, Lilacs & Champagne's very name reflects how important setting a mood is to them, and some of the best songs here find them excelling at that while giving their approach a pop twist: "Sour/Sweet" reworks one of the Guess Who's deep cuts, "Sour Suite," into a swirling track that deepens the original's world-weariness without losing its hooks. At its best, Danish & Blue finds Amos and Hall taking their sound in playful, unexpected directions with growing finesse.

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