Album Reviews: The Cosmic Game by Thievery CorporationA funny thing happens when you listen to Thievery Corporation’s latest, The Cosmic Game, for the third or fourth time. Your attitude shifts from one of, “God, when are these guys going to do anything different?” to one of, “God, why can’t anyone else make a chillout album this good?” Thievery Corporation have become downtempo electronica’s most reliable brand, and with their fourth studio album, they continue their streak.
There are a few surprises on The Cosmic Game, most notably the increased use of big-name guest vocalists. The album’s opener, “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun),” sounds exactly like what you’d expect a collaboration between the Flaming Lips and Thievery Corporation to sound like, all dreamy post-Floyd ambiance and Wayne Coyne obliquity, while “Revolution Solution” is a stunner, a dubby cut featuring an unrecognizable Perry Farrell doing a dead-on Rastafarian vocal. Both are mesmerizing, but the David Byrne-led “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter” suffers from the same watered-down Afro-Caribbean vibe that has marred much of Byrne’s solo work.
The vocal contributor who leaves the most indelible mark is Gunjan, a superstar in India but virtually unknown to American audiences. She sings on four tracks and shines on all of them, especially the hauntingly beautiful “Shiva” and “Warning Shots,” a cross-cultural track that artfully blends East Indian and Jamaican grooves.
Elsewhere, The Cosmic Game takes all of the favorite pages from Thievery Corporation’s well-thumbed world beat atlas -- dub/reggae, bossa nova, samba, trip-hop, all given a slightly more psychedelic sheen this time around than on past albums. They save their best surprise for next-to-last -- a dreamy piece of Bacharach-style pop featuring Thievery’s longtime French vocalist Loulou singing in fetchingly accented English. It’s the sweetest, most playful song the Thieves have ever recorded, and together with the aptly named closing instrumental, “A Gentle Dissolve,” it ends this relatively somber album on a welcome warm note.
If Thievery Corporation’s latest doesn’t break much new ground, well, you can hardly fault them for that -- this is still an act that has many imitators but no equals. - Andy Hermann
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