The Cosmic Game
Washington D.C. is a city foaming at the mouth. Nestled in this strange place is the jewel of American culture and the putative envy of every other nation on this planet. Vince Foster called it the bloodsport of Washington and politics—local and national—emanates from that spot. Every inch of the place is condensed and everyone uncaring because there are two groups who live in D.C: officers of politics and criminals in the street. The rise of bands like Fugazi, Q and Not U, and Guided By Voices was expected as all three channeled the lost, befuddled whispers of street psyche. They sprang forth with brilliance, together changing The District to a concrete paradise.
But the aforementioned groups were never so haughty as to proclaim a scene. They were bands with amps and agendas crying out only for an audience. For Eric Hilton and Rob Garza—the comprising musicians of Thievery Corporation—the scene has always overridden song. The 18th Street Lounge has become a beacon for musicians and residents alike who seek their situations swallowed by old school Rastafari, self-absorbed ‘World Music,’ and track after track of indiscernible Bossa Nova. The stress is always on ambiance and mood, the softer and less scientific parts of musicianship. The Cosmic Game, the duo’s 7th outing, strives pathetically to recapture the dullness and tepidity of The Mirror Conspiracy and Sounds From Thievery Hi-Fi.
What I appreciated about The Richest Man in Babylon and even the DJ Kicks series was how little emphasis was placed on establishing a certain sound listeners had come to expect. They never fully ceded tendencies found on older material, but never did such tendencies overpower the most solemn and serious work of their career. Now employing more popular guest vocalists like David Byrne, Perry Farrell, and The Flaming Lips, Thievery Corporation abruptly reverted to the sound by which they are most recognized. Influences that were skillfully employed on Richest Man in Babylon are dispersed desultorily, like the Hindi chanting and tabla on ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram,’ all dressed up with strong bass and plenty of reverb. The participation of the popular guest stars themselves only aggravates the prosaic music, evidenced no more obviously than Perry Farrell’s meandering, vacuous performance on ‘Revolution Solution.’ The album’s frequent collaborations with Gunjan only lends itself to mockery as the near-Eastern sentiment hinted at on their old works becomes fetid and overwhelming.
I never got to visit the 18th Street Lounge whenever a junket to D.C. presented itself; the closest I got was spinning the above-average compilation of the same name. I preferred it when Hilton and Garza saw themselves as merely Thievery Corporation, not the purveyors and owners of a particular fashion in a city that cares little about fashion. The Cosmic Game is all posture and little substance; a reaching, overcooked splatter of motley influences that gels into nothing. Hopefully the duo will soon recognize that scenes don’t really exist, and if they do the goal has never been to keep it propped up. Eventually the music of that scene becomes a husk fed only by the drone-like sustenance and water of some acolytes.
Release date: February 22, 2005
Label: Esl Music
Rating: 3.0 / 10
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