Various Artists

Gregorian Chillout [EMI]

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Gregorian monks regained their hipness, lost for centuries, in the early '90s, when the even-tempered, church-hall echo of their chants graced Enigma's hit single "Sadeness." In the wake of Enigma's success, chant collections were suddenly everywhere. The ascent of the term "chill-out" happened around the same time, although its roots lay in rave culture, whose addled participants would mellow/recover to less beat-dominated ambient grooves in chill-out rooms, which in turn spawned leagues of electronica compilations named in tribute or reference to these new age techno havens. All of this may seem like an unnecessary history in music trend watching, but it's the only way to explain the appearance of Gregorian Chillout. A frosty blue, soft-focus shot of devotional candles pops out on the cover, with crisp tech-friendly lowercase letters spelling out the title, making this seem like yet another electronica collection full of breathy beeps and understated beats. But a quick look at the track listing reveals it to be a kitten in sheep's clothing, with half of the double CD's tracks given over to traditional Gregorian chants and the other half to equally serene vocal works from Mozart, Byrd, Elgar, Fauré, Brahms, Purcell, and others. The pieces are brief, most excerpts here clocking in around the three-minute mark, and the lack of notes makes providing context for these works entirely up to the listener. Despite its drawbacks, Gregorian Chillout still manages to work well as an introduction to early music vocal works and as a roots-of-ambient collection for curious party people.

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