CD Review: Wind Down

I’ll preface this post with two things:

1. I work at Starbucks. Therefore, I’m very familiar with the content of this post.
2. While a trained journalist, I have never written a music review and therefore have no idea what I’m doing. Or truly, exactly what I’m talking about. Yay interwebs.

Going back to point one above, I’m a barista (with some managerial power, but not much). If you’ve ever been into a Starbucks, you’ve undoubtedly heard the music in there. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, often times very WTF, it’s all handpicked. And trust me, if it annoys you, it annoys we baristas at least 10-times more … given that we have to listen to it all day, every day that we work.

That being said, the company occasionally comes up with compilations and playlists that I absolutely ADORE. The trance/electronica/chill playlists are often my favorites. Back when I first started with the company, they had a CD compilation out called “Sundown: Music for Unwinding.” It has become one of my (and my husband’s) favorite CD’s ever, and the tracks burned onto our iTunes have high play numbers.

This year, along with the winter launch of probably one of Starbucks’ best ideas ever, the Blonde Roast (mmmm, Veranda), the company came out with the Wind Down playlists for in-store use and the CD Wind Down to sell.

Before even listening to it all day at work, just looking at the CD intrigued me and I bought it before even knowing what was on it. While such rash decisions can often times be bad, this one was good. I love this album and while I may never adore “Wind Down” as I do “Sundown,” it’s going to come close.

Starbucks bills the compilation as such:

log off, power down and move on.
A soundtrack for easing into the evening, this international array of electronic-embellished selections unfolds like nightfall, creating moments for reflection as the end of the day draws near.

And my thoughts, track by track:

Frou Frou – Breathe In
A fantastic start to the CD; it hooks you with the very first track. I get to really enjoy the great bass lines from my ancient (ca. 2001) stereo system … that really does do bass well, I might add. Plus it’s just a cute song in general – “because I love you,” a repeating point of the vocals. Maybe it’s just because I’m married (four months!).

Alif Tree – I Feel Blue
In general, I’m a sucker for any song with some quality piano, and this one starts off with some groovy piano before the bass kicks in and the jazz infused with electronic hints lulls you with a chill groove. In terms of tempo/feel, a slight step back from track one.

Ennio Morricone – Amore Come Dolore (Needs Remix)
As someone who watched a lot of spaghetti westerns as a kid (thanks, Dad) and adored “Ecstasy of Gold” on Metallica’s “S&M” album, I love me some Morricone. This upbeat shift in the playlist has the repetitive groove so often found  in the electronic genre (that can be headache-inducing even for some fans of the genre), but the depth of Morricone’s work makes it an enjoyable track (and the hubby’s favorite on the disc).

Groove Armada – Tuning In
Easily my favorite  of the bunch. Starts off awesome and just never lets you down. Lyrics hit you right away  and then Groove Armada lays down a funky bass line that you ride throughout the whole song. Yes, I subtly groove to this song at work whenever it comes on.

Minus 8 – Elysian Fields
Continuing on the upbeat groove, this track seems to me that it’s almost meant as a background one, not really picking up until about the 2:30 mark. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s almost … forgettable. The liner notes mention that it’s meant to establish a noir-ish mood … something I can understand. The track would be good as the background layer to a scene in a black-and-white film.

Tosca – Natural High
This track is where the disc starts to wind back down a bit. The electronic variations of, for lack of better phrasing, oscillating sounds reminiscent of video games, provide an interesting hook that keeps your ear trained to the music, instead of letting it slip away into the void.

Slackwax (Featuring Anna Leyne) – Close to My Fire
Another mellow groove, accentuated by the throaty vocals of Anna Leyne. While all the songs on the album  have their roots in electronica, Slackwax adds to the mix a song that would almost be more at home in a jazz club than a dance club. Probably the song that would most appeal to people not fans of the electronic genre.

Thievery Corporation – Lebanese Blonde
The sitar (pretty sure that’s what that instrument is) hooks you from the start and takes you in to what is an extremely well done, multi-layered track with enough depth to drown in. Luckily, we’re not talking water here, but music, and it is an incredibly enjoyable experience to sit back and listen to this track. It also breathes some more life into the playlist, leading us to the next track.

Moby – Natural Blues
While “South Side” and “Porcelain” perhaps got the most widespread recognition off of “Play,” I will argue you any day that either this or “Run On” were the best tracks of that CD. Moby sampled vocals from a 1937 spiritual song that end up being the perfect glue to bind the lyrical beats behind them.

Boozoo Bajou – Night Over Manaus
Starting with what I can best describe as tribal sounds, “Night Over Manaus” almost seems to be too many things at once. I love how the track has a lot of depth, but the beat base is almost too much. I can see the appeal of this track (it would be perfect at this underground dance thing I went to in Boulder a few years back – “hippie dancing” is how my friend described it), it’s not a song I could listen to over and over – a stark contrast to the rest of the album. In my opinion, the best part of the track comes near the end, when the whole tempo of the song shifts faster, and the varying grooves seem to fit together a lot better.

Moodorama – Behind the Scenes
First, let’s ignore how much I love the name “Moodorama” (because I do). The song’s elements make you listen to it, to see its depths and wonder what intrigues it contains. The track will slow down, only to come back with a force that brings you back into the present. Aptly named, “Behind the Scenes” makes you consider the shadowy places not often seen, but that one oft desires to know.

Propellerheads – Winning Style
While “Elysian Fields” could be part of a black-and-white detective film, “Winning Style” could be at home in a movie as well. The film could be as varied as something from the “Ocean’s” series or something from the ’70s. The track has a retro feel and a steady beat that you ride out the rest of the disc with.