Originally intended to be part of a double album with Scars, Basement Jaxx instead chose to release their more experimental 2009 effort, Zephyr, on its own merits, a wise decision considering its collection of downtempo and ambient self-described "soundscapes" would more than likely have gotten lost amidst the manic cut-and-paste vocal house of its more commercial alternative. Recorded over a two-year period across Berlin, New York, and London, its ten tracks still adhere to the usual "anything goes" Jaxx approach, but apart from the acoustic folk loops, hypnotic beats, and bilingual childlike melodies of "Walking in the Clouds" and the chaotic arcade game electro of "Dark Vale," it's an altogether more reflective affair that allows Buxton and Ratcliffe to showcase their unique interpretation of a chillout album. Indeed, only "Where R We Now," a string-soaked collaboration with U.S. jazz baritone José James, would sit comfortably next to the coffee-table arrangements of Zero 7 and Morcheeba, as Jaxx instead revel in their more globetrotting influences, fusing twitchy sitars and brooding Leftfield-esque atmospherics on "Hip Hip Hooray"; blending sci-fi sound effects with flamenco guitars and bossa nova beats on the seductive lounge-pop of "Alkazaar"; and combining their love of ragga, dancehall, and Latin jazz on the melting pot of sounds that is six-minute closer "Ascension." Elsewhere, there are flashes of vocals from Yoko Ono (who appeared on Scars' "Day of the Sunflowers") on the new age-inspired "Sunrising," "Peace of Mind" combines skittering Balearic breakbeats with shimmering '70s Fleetwood Mac guitar hooks, and "Check the Fuse" is an all too short 54-second slice of hazy Americana. The latter's "blink and you'll miss it" running time presents Zephyr's only real problem, as clocking in at just under a rather measly 30 minutes, Buxton and Ratcliffe never really give themselves the opportunity to explore their more ethereal nature. Which is a shame, as while it certainly doesn't contain any potential hits, it's a creative and playful curiosity that adds yet another string to their genre-straddling bow.
by Jon O'Brien