Album review: Minus 8 – Slow Motion

It’s been quite a few years since we last got a full-length release from Swiss DJ/producer Robert Jan Meyer – who does business as Minus 8.  His last proper release, 2004’s Eclectica, just didn’t do much for me.  I longed for a return to the bold and refreshing nu jazz and downtempo he produced on earlier albums.  Fortunately his latest release, Slow Motion, is a return to form of sorts.

Minus 8 - Slow MotionThe first thing that popped into my mind as I listened to this album is, “yeah, Slow Motion is a good title for this record”.  Rarely does the tempo rise above anything more than simmer, and yet Meyer manages to keep things interesting.  He does so mainly by keeping the songs short – only 2 of Slow Motion‘s tracks checks in above five minutes – and by making much more effective use of vocals than on the disappointing Eclectica.

Surprisingly the strongest songs on Slow Motion are ones featuring vocals (and this is coming from someone who typically dislikes vocals in his nu jazz/downtempo music).  The main star on the record, aside from Meyer’s production, is Hungarian vocalist Virag, who helps elevate tracks like “Give It Back” and “Let It Go” above the standard chillout fare. Contrast that with with a song like “Last Nite”, sans vocals, which is really nothing more than relatively pleasant background music.  And when her vocals are paired with excellent arrangements as on the moody and haunting “Close Your Eyes”, it’s a truly winning combination.

Songs featuring other vocalists are more of a mixed bag.  “Wonderland” and “Make Your Day” (featuring Miriam S) are fun and strong tracks, while the watered down hip hop-esque “Hustler” (feat. Jabere) borders on embarrassing during the verses.

To be sure, there are some strong tracks without vocals – “Enigma of Summer Afternoon” is a nice slice of prototypical nu jazz/chillout, while the subtle keyboards, sax, and acoustic guitar of the opening title cut wash over you like a warm ocean wave.  Perhaps the most intriguing and (for me) rewarding offering was the album closer, a 21st century take on the Erik Satie composition “Gymnopédie No. 1”.  It’s one of the cooler interpretations of the French composer’s works that I’ve heard, although it feels a bit more like a throwoff than a fully realized song here.

So while Minus 8’s latest offering may not be as bold or adventurous as I had hoped, it certainly is refreshing.  It’s not essential listening by any stretch, but represents a a talented producer retrenching creatively and finding he’s still able to put together a good album.  With the bad taste of the previous album washed out of my mouth, I can now look forward once again to his next project.

Track listing:
1. Slow Motion
2. Winter Tales (feat. Virag)
3. Let It Go (feat. Virag)
4. Soverato ’09
5. Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes (feat. Virag)
6. Last Nite
7. Give It Back (feat. Virag)
8. Enigma of Summer Afternoon
9. We’re Waiting (feat. Virag)
10. Close Your Eyes (feat. Virag)
11. Juy (feat. Rachel Montana)
12. Wonderland (feat. Miriam S)
13. Hustler (feat. Jabere)
14. Make Your Day (feat. Miriam S)
15. Gymnopédie No. 1