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Zero 7 

Simple Things (Ultimate Dilemma/Quango)

Simple Things arrives in the States seven months after its initial release in Britain, where it seems to have challenged afternoon tea as the universally loved facet of English life. It's almost platinum already, with the notoriously exuberant U.K. music press predicting its place on album-of-the-year lists for years to come; yet it remains to be seen whether it will be received with as much hype in America. Whatever the case, fans of Portishead, Air, Massive Attack, '70s soul, and chill-out music in general will be happy to learn about this duo.

Zero 7 consists of two North Londoners who grew up on hip-hop and soul, came of age during acid house, and got hip to folk rock in their adult years. They poured tea and moved boxes at a recording studio, learned their way around a mixing desk, and began punching out beats from a shack behind one of their flats. The boutique trip-hop label Ultimate Dilemma then signed them and made sure they had enough money to hire proper musicians. Simple Things is the result of their intuitive feeling for songwriting (neither fancies himself a musician) and their skill at making really full sounds.

An eight-piece string section adds an organic lushness to standouts "I Have Seen," "Give It Away," and "Red Dust." The single that's getting a lot of attention is "This World," a glorious, rainy-day soul ballad with evocative vocals by the relative unknown Mozez, a male singer who will probably be seeing a lot more work in the near future. There isn't a throwaway song on here, and the strongest cuts are really memorable. A record full of sturdy beats and fully realized melodic arrangements, and a must-have for anyone looking to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

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