The first time I heard “chill out” music, I felt surprise and excitement. I didn’t have to strain to decipher lyrics, let alone interpret their meaning. It didn’t impose itself on me with its aggression. It was a free ride that would carry me somewhere, if I wanted, and would let me off wherever I wanted. It was as much entrancing as relaxing, and moved me as much as it soothed me. As a result, I never really tired of hearing it. This was music I could listen to forever, if I wanted.
The best sort of chill out music, in my (occasionally) humble opinion, is the sort that takes its time to develop an atmosphere. Then, after establishing a fresh, cerebral universe, the story begins. It has to be of sufficient length and patience to tell a complete story, but not so long that it becomes tedious. It has to evolve. A static beat becomes monotonous, even torturous. Further, a beat isn’t even necessary. But if executed well, a beat provides a more familiar sense of continuity. Familiar, at least, when contrasted with the frequently ethereal experiences enabled by this sort of music. According to my preference, profound bass and heady psychedelic elements are greatly appreciated as they add depth, complexity, and intrigue.
A prime example of how well all this can be done is the album Zoo by Workbench. (For reference, Workbench is a Belgian named Sebastien Marchal currently living and producing in Ontario, Canada.) The title alone is evocative as a zoo is a precarious place filled with exotic creatures oozing with primitive aggression. In a sense, we hold them against their will. In another sense, we’re protecting them (so we hope). Such a situation is rife with tension, latent hostility, and uncertainty. On the other hand, these creatures engender a sense of awe and appreciation, even love, in those who see them and care for them.
Since the artist named his album after such a place, we expect the same qualities to be exhibited in the music. This is exactly what we find, a milieu of sounds and sensations that coalesce, complement each other, and transform into a gorgeous specimen of auditory art.
The track “Zoo (dusk)” illustrates this well. For its brevity, the title is remarkably detailed. Many of the creatures found in a zoo become active at dusk. When they do, it’s usually to feed. So, they’re excited and surreptitious. The atmosphere becomes charged. The music fades in with a soft melody, making its presence felt, if only subtly. Soon a beat picks up followed by electronic sounds and effects. After barely a minute of the 9:33 long track, it already feels like creatures both big and small are rising from their slumber. The track peaks a little over halfway through before settling down to sleep the day away.
Another track “Serpents” is a whopping 12:22 long. It too has a simple title full of implications. Each element in this track can be imagined as some form of serpent. The bass is an emerald boa . The beat is a bobbing cobra
. The starry elements are a regal ringneck. By the middle of the track, everything is alive and oscillating. Some fly overhead, others creep in stuttering patterns on the ground below. Eventually the snakes grow tired and retire one by one into their nooks and crevices, but not before burning their memory into our brains.
These are just a couple examples of great tracks on this album. The rest of Zoo is as mellow and captivating, a real joy to experience.
Workbench – “Zoo (dusk)”
Workbench – “Serpents”
Zoo download page