Mercifully, the term ‘trip-hop’ has become passé in the music industry, although it has been replaced by the equally vague, albeit more innocuous moniker ‘downtempo’. hERON is a long-distance, Seattle / San Antonio collaboration between Progeny of Chisme/Ghost Palace (MPC, guitar, records) and Rob Castro of Grayskul/Chisme/Ghost Palace (bass). They delve in what was once called ‘triphop’, infused with tons of melancholic atmosphere and cinematic flair. hERON’s music, in a nutshell, is sample-based downtempo electronica with a notably heavy hip-hop influence. A completely instrumental outfit, the effectiveness of their music lies in the duo’s ability to construct these tracks in an original and creative enough manner that they are able to transcend the limitations imposed by the genre. hERON’s music, hence their 12 track, self-titled debut, works in this context, because, while melodic, it also possesses that aforementioned cinematic quality which effectively transports the listener to another place, so to speak. Or rather, twelve places, to be precise.
“Chillmode” opens the album, and quickly demonstrates hERON’s adept ability to create brooding, hazy soundscapes, albeit with a surefooted beat. The exotic instrumentation adds to the song’s charm as well. Progeny has obviously refined the art of crate digging down to a science from the sound of the second track “Flipout”.
Cinematically downtempo in the loose sense of the word, this song almost recalls The Doors in places, but then the trumpet sets in to add a twist to proceedings. A turmoiled and mesmerizing track, “Holding On” produces an almost narcotic effect on the listener. Furthermore, there is a great deal of emotional substance to the arrangement.
Another key element of hERON’s music which, tangentially, is a pretty significant element of their appeal is the sound of vinyl. As this is primarily sample-based music, vinyl pops and crackles add a softer, more organic sound to the tracks here and there. Despite the title, “Evilfortress”, the fourth track, is an acoustically dominated piece with a slightly loungey flavor to it.
You don’t think of chill out or downtempo music as something that sneaks up behind you and throws you into a sonic headlock, but that’s more or less what “It’s Too Late” does with its banging beat. Urban beat connoisseurs everywhere are going to throw this track onto their playlists, along with “Ooooo” and “Vagabond”, of course.
Elsewhere, as on the title track, “Heron”, and “One Day It AII Ends”, hERON’s mastery of atmosphere enables them to craft songs that, while less immediately arresting, unfold over repeat listening into extraordinarily evocative, almost cinematic collisions of ensemble orchestration and modern beat science. Even the most throwaway track like here, has more atmosphere and groove packed into it than some downtempo or trip hop purveyors can muster in an entire album.
Credit hERON’s unerring sense of groove and distrust of ear-grabbing melodies or solos for keeping even their densest of arrangements from going off the deep end. You will like this record. Put it on, sit in your favorite easy chair, and let the head nodding beats and subtle melodies rock you into submission.